Are You Forgetting an Important Cancer Test?

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Today’s woman is taking better care of herself and managing the physical and emotional changes that come with menopause. However, many women are forgetting one important area: the colon. Some of us are unaware that colorectal cancer (also sometimes called colon cancer) affects women just as often as men. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and the third most common cause of cancer in both sexes.

Despite the facts, fewer women get screened than men. In fact, the American Journal of Public Health reported that 58 percent of men had been screened for colon cancer, versus 51 percent of women. We need to learn the facts about this disease and add colorectal screening tests to our annual health checklists.

Startling Facts About Women and Colorectal Cancer

Surprisingly, those of us who are health-conscious and visit our doctors regularly also don’t understand the facts about colorectal cancer. In fact, barely half of women over 50 currently are getting screened.

When you consider all of the other very personal changes that we face at menopause, it’s easy to understand why we are reluctant to take yet another test. However, the startling facts about women and colorectal cancer should send us all straight to the doctor for a test. According to the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance:

  • Almost 48 percent of women who have both an obstetrician/gynecologist and a family physician have never discussed colon cancer with either physician.
  • Only one percent of women surveyed say that colon cancer is their biggest health concern. Heart disease was listed first, followed by losing weight, breast cancer, and diabetes. However, more people die from colon cancer than from breast cancer and AIDS combined.
  • A mere 25 percent of women over age 50 whose physicians recommend colon cancer screening failed to obtain the test.

How Colorectal Cancer Develops

The word colorectal refers to two parts of your body; your large intestine and rectum, both of which are involved in digestion of food. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from food and moves waste into the rectum until you eliminate it. Polyps can grow in both the colon and rectum. Initially polyps are unharmful, but over time, they can start bleeding and become cancerous. Because of this gradual progression, yearly screening is very important.

The good news is that if you remove the polyp before it becomes cancerous, you can prevent the cancer from ever developing.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Options

Much like breast and cervical cancer screening, there is a yearly test for colorectal cancer. However, there is more than one screening test to consider, so it’s easy to get confused.

Starting at age 50, you should have a yearly fecal blood test, which detects blood in your stool caused by a polyp. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), annual fecal blood tests can reduce colorectal cancer deaths by 33 percent and reduce cases of this cancer by 20 percent.

However, while effective, there are many negative perceptions about fecal blood tests. A newer, more advanced version called InSure is much less unpleasant than older ones. Your regular healthcare provider can provide you a test kit to take home and complete over the course of two days. InSure comes with a little brush to dab a few drops of toilet water around your stool onto the test kit. Once completed, you mail it to Quest Diagnostics in a discreet package to be evaluated in the laboratory. This test is 87 percent accurate in detecting blood in the stool, which indicates a bleeding polyp.

Many people are familiar with colonoscopy, a procedure NBC’s Katie Couric famously underwent live on the morning show she co-anchors. Women over 50 years of age should begin having one of these important procedures, in which a long, thin, lighted tube is inserted into the colon to find and remove polyps. If you are healthy, you only need the procedure every 10 years, with yearly fecal blood tests in between.

When Tests Find Cancer

If you have a positive InSure test, your doctor will refer you for a colonoscopy in which a gastroenterologist will look inside your colon, find the polyp, and remove it for biopsy. If the polyp is cancerous, you may need additional treatment such as surgery to remove additional cancerous tissue or chemotherapy. A benign, or non-cancerous, polyp requires no additional follow-up, but you should still continue to have yearly screening and periodic colonoscopies.

Health advice for other cancers applies to colorectal cancer, too. Quit or do not start smoking; smokers may be 30 to 40 percent more likely than non-smokers to die from colorectal cancer. If you drink, do so moderately, because heavy drinking is another risk factor. Eat a varied, low-fat diet and exercise to further lower your risk.

This year, brush up your annual checkup list by asking your doctor about colorectal cancer screening with InSure and colonoscopy. A regular schedule including both these procedures will help you prevent and detect cancer as early as possible.

For more information, visit these Web sites:

American Cancer Society,
InSure Screening Test,
Quest Diagnostics Patient Health Library,