Gender Matters in Virtual Colonoscopy

Good news for women on the colonoscopy front: A study published in the journal Cancer found that women can wait five to ten years longer than men to be screened for colorectal cancer if they undergo an initial virtual colonoscopy.

As we blogged earlier this year, colonoscopy is an invasive procedure whose risks for many people outweigh the potential benefit. We’ve also discussed virtual colonoscopy, in which the lower intestine and colon are scanned externally by CT technology instead of viewed with an invasive probe.

The purpose of a colonoscopy is to detect polyps in the lower gastrointestinal tract that might become cancerous. Apart from the questionable value of it for some people, ScienceDaily.com notes that some people for whom it makes sense may not be healthy enough to undergo the procedure. Virtual colonoscopy can be an excellent option for them.

But until now, there were no studies to determine at what age virtual colonoscopies should first be performed. This study involved 7,620 patients who were referred for a first-time screening with virtual colonoscopy; 276 patients (3.6%) ultimately were diagnosed with advanced cancer. Older age and male gender were linked with advanced disease, while body mass index and a family history of cancer were not.

The researchers determined that 51 women younger than 55 would need to be screened to detect one case of advanced neoplasia (abnormal growth of cells, as in a tumor), compared with only 10 men older than 65. They concluded that it’s best for men to have a virtual colonoscopy between the ages of 55 and 60, but that women can wait until they’re at least 60.

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