We know that screening colonoscopy saves lives. So, it may be surprising to learn that even with all the publicity surrounding Colon Cancer Awareness this month, fewer women still get screened for colorectal cancer than men. Why is this the case?
Among some women, there is a misguided belief that they are less likely to get colorectal cancer (CRC) than men, but the truth is they are equally affected. In fact, more than 71,000 women are diagnosed with CRC each year and nearly 26,000 die from the disease. Despite this fact, most women believe that breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers are potentially more lethal to them than colon cancer. Again, this is not true.
According to surveys, the reasons women are reluctant to get screened are the perception that CRC is a “male disease”, underestimation of their risk, embarrassment, and the perception that the procedure is painful. Additionally, there are fewer referrals for screening for women by primary care physicians – particularly if the primary care doctor is male. Lack of availability of female gastroenterologists who do screening colonoscopies has also been cited as a factor that contributes to lower compliance rates for CRC screening in women.
At DHC, although we have a significant number of female patients coming to all of our doctors for colonoscopies as well as other procedures, we are aware that multiple studies document that women have a 30% to 48% preference for females to do their procedure. We are proud to have women gastroenterologists as part of our practice, but considering female membership makes up less than 10% for most gastroenterological societies, it is clear that more women need to be attracted to the field of gastroenterology.
We understand the differences between men and women. Both may develop similar digestive conditions. These include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and gallstones, but gender can affect their symptoms and treatment recommendations. And while the risk of colon cancer is similar for both men and women, the disease may behave differently in women. In addition, women’s digestive health is impacted by life events such as pregnancy, menopause and post-menopause.
The best self-care for managing digestive issues is the same advice given for optimum health and reduction of the risk of chronic disease.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a balanced diet, including lots of fluids and fiber.
- Eat probiotic-rich foods. These “healthy” bacteria help keep you regular.
- Stay active.
The American College of Gastroenterology extensively outlines the different nature of GI problems unique to women, with a good explanation of the male-female variations. Read here for more.
Visit our experts as Digestive Healthcare Center, including our specialists in women’s wellness. Our highly experienced and award-winning staff focuses on quality care with compassion for all our patients.