Common Screening for Colon Cancer Found Less Effective for Women

A new study has found that a common test for colon cancer is much less effective in diagnosing women than it is for men. The test, known as a sigmoidoscopy, involves a flexible scope that examines only the lower part of the large intestine. A colonoscopy examines the entire large intestine, but is more expensive, labor intensive and requires sedation.

The study, published this month in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared colonoscopy results of men and women to determine what percentage of polyps could have been identified by a sigmoidoscopy alone. According to the Washington Post, 66 percent of men’s polyps could have been found, but only 35 percent of women’s polyps would have been detected without a full colonoscopy. The Los Angeles Times reports that sigmoidoscopies also could not predict the number of polyps higher in women’s intestines, although they could be predictive of men’s polyps, leading to the hypothesis that women may be more likely to have polyps higher in the intestine. Medical guidelines suggest regular screenings for individuals over 50, according to the Associated Press, and the results of this study suggest that women should opt for colonoscopies when possible. Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in women, behind lung and breast cancers.

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Associated Press 5/18/05; Los Angeles Times 5/19/05; Washington Post 5/24/05

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