You've Got Colonoscopy Options

Women should consider sigmoidoscopy cancer screening

(RxWiki News) It's another equal rights movement. Colorectal cancer is very common among women and though colonoscopy is the preferred and recommended screening method for colorectal cancer, women do have options.

The unpleasant process of colonoscopy is something men and women alike would rather avoid, as the colonoscopy requires a doctor to pass a tiny camera through the patient's backside.

In order to increase colorectal cancer screening rates, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a report outlining various screening options for women. Patients can be screened through tests such as colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and fecal occult blood testing. Other tests are currently under development, but are not yet recommended for general use.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy, like colonoscopy, involves passing a camera through the rectum so that the doctor can search for cancers and polyps. However, flexible sigmoidoscopy is slightly less intrusive than colonoscopy because it does not allow the doctor to see the entire colon.

Fecal occult blood tests look for blood in a person's stool. Blood in the stool may be a sign of colorectal cancer.

Regular screening is the most effective way to reduce one's risk of colorectal cancer. In fact, studies have shown that as many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone 50 years of age and older were screened regularly. As such, it is important for at-risk and older adults to get screened.

Regular screening increases the chance of finding pre-cancerous polyps, allowing doctors to remove them before they develop into cancer. If the polyps have already developed into cancer, regular screening increases the chance catching the cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

Colorectal cancer is diagnosed in more women than all kinds of gynecological cancer combined. The authors of the report encourage health care providers and patients to have conversations about colorectal cancer screening options. Giving women the option to choose their preferred screening method will likely increase the number of women who get screened, and consequently reduce the number of deaths associated with colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer most commonly affects people over the age of 50. However, people younger than 50 are also at risk of developing the cancer, especially if they have certain risk factors, including a personal or family history of colorectal cancer; a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease; having inherited genetic syndromes; and some factors related to lifestyle choices.

Approximately five to ten percent of individuals who develop colorectal cancer have inherited genes that cause the cancer. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) are the two most common genetic diseases associated with colorectal cancer. Turcot syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome also drastically increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer, as well as other cancers.

The report is published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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Review Date: 
March 4, 2011