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Women need colonoscopies too

Posted at 6:09 AM, Mar 02, 2023

March marks Colorectal Cancer Awareness month – a good time to remind both men and women in Utah that colon and rectal cancers are not men’s diseases. But studies show that women are less likely to get a colonoscopy.

“I think that people don't like to talk about their poop, their bowel habits, things like that,” said Intermountain Health colorectal surgeon Dr. Bryce Haac. “A lot of people don't look at their stool to see if there's blood in it, or they're embarrassed if there's blood in it.”

Haac said squeamishness is one enemy in the fight against colorectal cancer. In women, there are many others.

“There's a lot of symptoms that women get for other reasons like menstrual cramping, changes in bowel habits with that, things like endometriosis that can sometimes be confused. So it's important to really rule out colon and rectal cancer and patients that are having some abnormal symptoms,” said Haac.

The American Cancer Society reports 4.4 percent of men will get colon cancer. 4.1 percent of women will too. It’s almost no difference at all, but women are less likely to get screened.

This June 2022 study from the National Institutes of Health shows women’s colonoscopies do tend to take longer because a women’s average colon length is greater than a man’s.

Another study out of Massachusetts General Hospital in May 2022 found a dramatically lower risk of colon cancer in women who are tested between age 45 and 50 than those who waited.

“What is the difference between catching it early and catching it late? It’s huge,” said Haac. “With one colonoscopy, you can actually prevent cancer. You can discover a polyp and remove it before it even becomes cancer. Then you don’t need anything else other than more frequent colonoscopies.”

Bottom line. Colonoscopies may require some unpleasant preparation, but adults who get them are far more likely to beat America’s third cause of cancer deaths in men and women.