I became an endoscopy key opinion leader (KOL) in 2008, when our research showed that flat colon polyps, polyps that were difficult to detect, were associated with early cancers. The research findings were picked up by public media, which published it in the front pages of newspapers around the world (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/health/research/05cancer.html).
I did not plan to be a KOL nor did I ever thought it was a responsibility to become one. I was simply doing science with passion. It was a lot of hard work: 17 years of formal training after high school including a Master’s degree with thesis, 5 years of going to various endoscopy centers in Japan and Europe, 5 years of research, and a whole lot of people doubting us (to say mildly). After the grueling years, we showed that flat colon polyps were routinely missed, despite 14 millions colonoscopies were performed that year alone.
Our bloggers wrote about the need to convince people. It was true. However, that did not come easy. While newspaper coverage made patients believed about the flat polyps in 2008, we are still trying to convince other physicians to look for the flat colon polyps when they perform colonoscopy.
Two weeks ago I was honored to give an endowed lecture during the annual meeting of American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. My task was to give an opinion of a new findings that showed the risk of missing a tumor, which later became cancer in the colon, was low. The audience would be happier to hear that finally endoscopy physicians were doing a great job. We could pad ourselves in the back. It was an unpopular stand to say otherwise. I was up against the wall.
The risk is quite low: 1 in 2,000, but imagine if it happens to us, our family or our loved ones. In the lecture, I gave an analogy. I said: “Flying to this meeting, I asked myself what the risk of this plane to fall.” If that risk was 1 in 2,000 (the risk of missing the precancerous tumor, which, in turn, would likely to cause early death), would that be acceptable? (That would mean that at least one plane crashes every day in the U.S.) NO!