Riverside is here for you during the COVID-19 outbreak.

For more information, please click here.

Colon cancer and women: What you need to know

February 21, 2022

Cancer Gastroenterology Women's Health
Mother With Adult Daughter In Park Together Smiling To Camera

In the U.S., colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in women. Women have a lifetime risk of 1 in 25 of developing colorectal cancer. Only breast and lung cancer cases are more common. 

After considering these numbers, some women might dismiss colorectal cancer as something that won’t happen to them. It’s third on the list, so it’s not the most common, right?

But Shweta Joshi, M.D., a board-certified and fellowship trained gastroenterologist with Riverside Gastroenterology Specialists, says that colorectal cancers still affect too many people. And new research findings about the condition should make you think about scheduling a colorectal cancer screening as soon as your doctor recommends it.

New research shows right-sided colon cancers affect more women than men

Breast cancer tends to take center stage for women when talking about cancer awareness and prevention. However, colorectal cancer is just as concerning, especially since new research shows women may be more likely than men to develop a deadlier type called right-sided colon cancer.

Researchers have found that right-sided colon cancer occurs much more often in women than men. The data showed that 62% of right-sided colon cancer cases were women, and 38% were men. That’s significant because right-sided colon cancer has a poorer survival rate than left-sided colon cancer.

“There isn’t just one type of colon cancer,” says Dr. Joshi. “The left side of the colon is different from the right on a molecular level. This difference affects how tumors grow and respond to treatment.”

“One reason for the difference in right-sided survival rate may be that it’s harder to detect in early stages,” explains Dr. Joshi.

Researchers are still looking into why right-sided colon cancer happens more frequently in women and why it’s harder to treat. But until we have the answers, what does all this mean for women?

“It underscores the importance of not delaying your colorectal cancer screening if you’re a woman,” says Dr. Joshi. “Colon cancer is common and deadly. But thanks to screenings, it’s more curable when found early and can often be prevented.”

If you’re a young woman, another reason not to delay talking to your doctor about colorectal cancer

Data is also showing another concerning trend regarding colorectal cancer in young adults.

Since the 1990s, fewer people overall have been diagnosed with and died from colorectal cancer. But during this same period, rates of colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 years old have more than doubled, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“The most recent numbers show that colorectal cancer is the third deadliest cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 49,” Dr. Joshi says.

This concern about the increase in rates among younger people has prompted medical experts to lower the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screenings from 50 to 45.

“The main message is, if you’re a young woman in your 20s or 30s, get to know your risk for colorectal cancer and don’t ignore signs of the disease,” says Dr. Joshi.

You’re at greater risk for colorectal cancer if:

  • You have a close relative who has had polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • You’ve been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • You have a genetic syndrome such as Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome.

Women at higher risk may need to schedule their first colorectal cancer screening sooner than age 45.

Signs of colorectal cancer can include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Constipation, diarrhea or pencil-thin stool that doesn’t improve
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling like you can’t empty your bowel
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Unexplained weight loss

“You might be busy starting your career or family, but at your next annual exam, just take a moment to ask your doctor about your individual colorectal cancer risk and when you should plan to get that first screening. It’s really that simple,” Dr. Joshi suggests. 

Ready to schedule your first colorectal cancer screening?

Riverside offers three options  for colorectal cancer screening. To schedule your appointment, call 757-316-5777 or make an appointment online.

Related Articles

View All Posts
Cancer Primary Care

Resources for transgender community for preventative cancer screenings

June 07, 2022
Learn More Cancer screening guidelines
Cancer Healthy Aging

Care for the caregiver – When your loved one is diagnosed with cancer

May 23, 2022
Learn More A senior woman looks away, while daughter closes her eyes and gives a caring hug
Cancer Healthy Aging

Coping with cancer: How early palliative care can help you and your family

March 10, 2022
Learn More Rear view of son and elderly father sitting together at home