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Colonoscopy: A woman's best defense against colon cancer

Ann Arbor, Mich. A new multi-center study has reaffirmed the difference between the sexes at least when it comes to colorectal cancer detection and prevention.

In the first large-scale study involving women, researchers from the University of Michigan, the National Cancer Institute, the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, the National Naval Medical Center and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center found that colonoscopy is the preferred colon cancer screening method in average-risk women because other screening tools would miss most advanced pre-cancerous polyps.

The results from the CONCeRN (COlorectal Neoplasia screening with Colonoscopy in average-risk women at Regional Naval medical centers) study team of investigators appear in the May 19 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous research on colon cancer screening using colonoscopy focused primarily on men, including the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Study 380 that evaluated more than 3,000 patients - 97 percent of whom were male. This research determined that fecal occult blood testing (which identifies microscopic amounts of blood in stool) and flexible sigmoidoscopy (which examines the lower 25 percent of the colon) would identify more than 70 percent of men with advanced pre-cancerous polyps.

While these tools miss approximately 30 percent of advanced pre-cancerous lesions in men, their utility in women has not been adequately tested and many health care providers offer only fecal occult blood testing or flexible sigmoidoscopy for colon cancer screening for both men and women. However, based on the results from the CONCeRN study, colonoscopy is clearly the preferred colon cancer screening method for women, says lead author Phillip Schoenfeld, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

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