Colorectal cancer in women: an underappreciated but preventable risk

J Womens Health. 1998 Feb;7(1):45-8. doi: 10.1089/jwh.1998.7.45.


Colorectal cancer is the third most common non-skin malignancy in women, after breast and lung cancer. Although approximately 40% of the 65,000 women diagnosed each year eventually die of the disease, colon cancer is highly curable when diagnosed at an early stage. Moreover, because the majority of colon cancers arise in previously benign colonic polyps, there is a substantial period, up to several years, in which removal of polyps can reduce the risk of colon cancer. Recently, the United States Preventive Task Force recommended universal screening for colon cancer after age 50. Strong evidence from randomized controlled trials and case-control studies supports use of annual testing for occult blood in stool and flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5-7 years. Although the risk of colon cancer is similar in men and women, women frequently have the perception that colorectal cancer is a man's disease. Partially in consequence, women are less likely than men to undergo screening sigmoidoscopy. Further barriers include primary care providers' lack of awareness of updated guidelines and patients' lack of compliance with multiple screening tests and their fear of discomfort. Because the risk of colorectal cancer can be reduced by up to 75% in those who undergo screening and subsequent surveillance to remove further polyps, it is crucial that women be targeted to undergo screening tests for colorectal cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colonoscopy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Mass Screening* / organization & administration
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women's Health