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Screen Out Colon Cancer in Women

Colon cancer affects men and women with equal frequency, but there is a common misperception that it’s a “man’s disease”. Colon cancer ranks as the third most common cause of cancer deaths in women and will claim the lives of more than 25,000 American women this year.

The good news about colon cancer is simply this: with proper screening, it is a treatable and curable disease. Screening procedures such as a colonoscopy, or sigmoidoscopy, provide doctors with a clear view of the digestive system lining so they can identify and treat abnormal tissue growth before the development of colon cancer.

Risk Factors for Women

Age: Age is the most important risk factor for developing colon cancer. As women grow older, their risk doubles every five years.

Other risk factors: menopause, family history of colon cancer or polyps, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and a high fat or low fiber diet.

Healthy weight: In addition to regular screenings, adults can reduce their risks by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in postmenopausal women decreases the risk of developing colon cancer by 20-45 percent.

Calcium: Taking supplemental calcium reduces the risk by 30-50 percent and decreases the development of recurrent polyps.

Reducing the Risks of Colon Cancer

  • If you are over 50, ask your doctor for the proper screening.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Take supplemental calcium

Screening Methods

There are several screening methods for colon cancer including:

Doctors consider colonoscopy to be the most sensitive and accurate test and recommend it for all adults over the age of 50. For individuals at high risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, screening should begin at age 40.

Screening Research

Research conducted at University Hospitals Case Medical Center indicates that even though colon cancer screening has been proven to be an effective tool for early detection, it still remains vastly underutilized in the United States. Researchers found that most patients aged 70 and older were not up to date with colon cancer screening, with fewer than 20% up to date with colonoscopy.

The study also showed that 94 percent of patients either did not have a colonoscopy, or if they did, it was not until the colonoscopy revealed cancer. This data leads researchers to suspect that most people wait too long before undergoing some form of colorectal screening.

This article was originally published in Smart Health – Northeast Ohio’s Health and Wellness Magazine Just For Women, and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2013.

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    Last Reviewed: Feb 27, 2013

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    Professor of Medicine

    School of Medicine

    Case Western Reserve University