May is Women’s Health Month, a time to encourage women to care for their physical, mental and emotional health. This year, we celebrate Women’s Health Week May 14-20. Besides exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet and getting adequate sleep, women can improve their overall wellness by scheduling preventive health screenings.
A colon cancer screening should be part of a woman’s health screening checklist, like annual mammograms, pap smears and skin checks.
Colon cancer is a leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
A colon cancer screening is essential to a woman’s health because most colon cancer is treatable when diagnosed early. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors will diagnose more than 150,000 new cases of colon or rectal cancer this year, making it the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The lifetime risk for colon cancer is about 1 in 26 for women and 1 in 23 for men.
Many cases of colon cancer are preventable with regular screenings. Colonoscopy is the gold standard of colon cancer screening because it allows a gastroenterologist to examine the entire colon for polyps and other abnormalities. Most polyps can be removed during the procedure, thereby preventing them from becoming cancer.
Younger people with later-stage colon cancer
The death rate of colon cancer has decreased in both genders for several decades. There are several possible reasons for this change. More sophisticated screening techniques make it easier for doctors to detect polyps and colon cancer earlier when they are more treatable. Additionally, colon cancer treatments have improved over the years.
Although the overall incidence of colon cancer has decreased, the incidence in patients younger than 50 years old has almost doubled. In addition, research in 2019 found that adults younger than 55 comprised 20 percent of new colon cancer cases. Also, studies found the proportion of adults with later-stage colon cancer was 60 percent in 2019, compared to 52 percent in the mid-2000s.
“There is a lot of research going on,” said Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, senior vice president for surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society. “Some people say it’s probably obesity or changes in diet over the past decades that might be a reason, but really, we don’t know exactly what causes this rapid rise in colorectal cancer incidence rates.”
Colon cancer screenings can prevent cancer
Routine screening offers the best defense against colon cancer. Unfortunately, only 4 out of 10 adults get screened at proper intervals.
Studies show barriers to screening include the following:
- Fear of the screening procedure
- Financial challenges
- Lack of insurance
- Transportation challenges
- Perceived lack of time
Even though colonoscopy is the preferred screening method, other screening options are less invasive and only take a few minutes to complete. There are also options for affordable colon cancer screenings, including low-cost colonoscopy.
Observe National Women’s Health Week and get screened
Ask your doctor when you should have colon cancer screening. The recommended age for screening is 45, but many adults are at risk for developing the disease earlier. If you have a family history of colon cancer or a history of precancerous polyps, you may be able to get a colonoscopy earlier. Finally, if you have digestive symptoms, you should discuss these with your doctor regardless of age. Everyone is at risk for colon cancer, so it is essential to ask your doctor when to begin colon cancer screening.