Colorectal cancer, a term for both colon and rectal cancer, is a formidable adversary that affects both men and women. In this article, a leading colorectal surgeon in Melbourne looks at colorectal cancer, the differences between colon and rectal cancer, symptoms specific to women, risk factors, screening guidelines recommended by your colorectal surgeon, and proactive measures to lower the risk, including seeing a female surgeon for your colonoscopy.
Colorectal Cancer Differences Between Men and Women
According to recent data from the American Cancer Society, approximately 4.3% of men (1 in 23) and 4% of women (1 in 25) will be diagnosed with rectal or colon cancer in their lifetime. In Victoria alone, 2009 males and 1704 females were diagnosed by colorectal surgeons with these cancers in 2021, reflecting a similar trend. Despite similar lifetime risk percentages, the incidence rates are higher in men. This discrepancy is primarily attributed to women’s longer life expectancy.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer, often used interchangeably with colon cancer and rectal cancer, refers to the development of cancerous cells in the colon or rectum. The colon, the larger part of the large intestine, and the rectum, the lower part, play essential roles in the digestive process. Both types of cancer, when combined, are the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women.
Symptoms and Awareness in Wome
While the overall lifetime risk is similar for both sexes, colorectal cancer tends to be overshadowed by other health concerns for women. Women, often nurturing the health of their families, may neglect their own well-being. Additionally, symptoms of colon cancer can overlap with gynaecological symptoms, leading women to dismiss or downplay persistent symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in stool patterns. It is crucial for women to be aware of the symptoms specific to colorectal cancer:
- Blood in or around the stool
- Persistent abdominal pain or cramping
- Changes in stool pattern or density (diarrhea, constipation, narrowing of stools)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness or fatigue
If experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a colorectal surgeon as soon as possible. Early intervention gives the highest survival and recovery rates from this type of cancer. If going for screening or discussing bowel issues is uncomfortable for you, remember that you can always request a female surgeon when looking for a colorectal surgeon in Melbourne.
Breaking the Silence: Open Communication with Your Colorectal Surgeon
Reluctance to discuss symptoms related to colorectal health is a common obstacle to receiving timely care. While discussions about stool patterns and rectal bleeding may be uncomfortable, early detection is critical. Identifying any unusual signs or symptoms and openly communicating them with your doctor facilitates proper evaluation and care. Women, in particular, should prioritise their well-being and engage in candid conversations about their health. Because this can be challenging or even embarrassing for many women, it’s highly recommended that you speak to a female surgeon.
Several factors contribute to the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer:
- Family history of colon or rectal cancer
- Known genetic mutations associated with various cancers
- History of smoking
- Diet low in fibre and high in animal fat
- Lack of physical activity
- Heavy alcohol use
Understanding these risk factors empowers women to make informed decisions about their health and take proactive measures to reduce their risk.
Screening Guidelines for Women
The current recommendation for colorectal cancer screening, regardless of gender, is to start at age 45 for individuals without a family history of colon cancer. However, those with a family history may need screening at an earlier age.
The Best Time for a Colonoscopy
The optimal time to undergo a colonoscopy is when you are feeling healthy! Since symptoms often don’t appear until the cancer is at an advanced stage, routine screenings are crucial for early detection. Identifying and removing polyps during a colonoscopy are key components of preventing colorectal cancer. Early detection significantly improves the chances of successful treatment.
Lowering the Risk: Lifestyle Changes for Women
To reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, women can adopt healthy lifestyle behaviours:
- Regular exercise (at least four times a week)
- A diet high in fibre (aim for 25 grams of fibre a day)
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
It’s important to stay attuned to your body and promptly address any unusual or persistent symptoms with a colorectal surgeon, as this is crucial for early detection and prevention.
Colorectal cancer is a formidable health challenge that affects both men and women. Despite the higher incidence rates in men, women face a similar lifetime risk. Prioritising open communication with your colorectal surgeon in Melbourne, finding a female surgeon if this makes screenings easier, understanding symptoms, recognising risk factors, and following screening guidelines are essential steps for women in managing their colorectal health. By adopting a proactive approach to lifestyle and health recommended by colorectal surgeons, women can lower their risk and contribute to the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer, ultimately improving overall well-being.