Washington, DC — In recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reminds ob-gyns and women that the best defense against colorectal cancer—the third leading cause of cancer death among women in the US—is getting screened. The College recommends that all women undergo colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50, or earlier if they have risk factors for the disease.
Colorectal cancer (often referred to as colon cancer) is a slow-growing cancer that affects the cells in the colon and rectum and can spread to other parts of the body. While the cause of colon cancer is unknown, age is a factor that increases risk, with approximately 90% of colorectal cancers occurring in people older than age 50.
With proper screening, colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, yet in 2009, an estimated 71,380 women were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 24,680 died from the disease. Colorectal cancer can be stopped before it starts if precancerous polyps are found and removed, thereby avoiding the disease completely. Screening also allows the detection of early colon cancer, when it is highly curable. According to experts, the promising decline in colon cancer deaths in recent years is most likely due to more people being screened and having precancerous polyps in the colon removed before they turn into deadly cancer. Despite these facts, many women are still not getting screened—only about 50% of women undergo the recommended screening for colon cancer.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the following colon cancer screening options for women age 50 and older:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years
OTHER APPROPRIATE METHODS
- Yearly patient-collected fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years or
- Double-contrast barium enema every five years or
- CT colonography (“virtual colonoscopy”) every five years or
- Stool DNA testing—it is not known how often this test is needed
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with the following risk factors should begin screening before age 50: personal or family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer; personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; or family history of colorectal cancer syndromes. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends that African Americans begin screening at age 45.
Regular screening is essential because colorectal cancer doesn’t always have symptoms, and sometimes the cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. The following symptoms, however, may indicate colon cancer: a change in bowel habits, bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool, stools that are more narrow than usual, abdominal discomfort (bloating, cramps, or frequent gas pains), unexplained weight loss, and weakness and fatigue.
Click here to get the facts on colorectal and other women’s cancers, including information about who is most at risk, how cancer can be prevented, available screenings and their recommended frequency, warning signs and symptoms, and how the cancer is treated.
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The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the nation’s leading group of physicians providing health care for women. As a private, voluntary, nonprofit membership organization of approximately 53,000 members, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly advocates for quality health care for women, maintains the highest standards of clinical practice and continuing education of its members, promotes patient education, and increases awareness among its members and the public of the changing issues facing women’s health care.