Why Experts Suggest Women In Their 40s Should Start Getting Colonoscopies

A study published in Jama Oncology on May 5 suggested that women in their 40s who get colonoscopies reduce their risk of developing colon cancer. In the early 2000s, the average age for someone to have colon cancer was 72. By 2020, that number decreased to 66. Now, the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend getting a screening at age 45.

Dr. Andrew Chan was the senior author of the study and is also a gastroenterologist and epidemiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He told WebMD that the number of people with an average risk of colon cancer who wind up developing the disease at younger ages is increasing. From 1974 to 2013, cases of colon cancer for people under the age of 50 increased by 51%. Based on data gathered from about 112,000 women in the United States, those who get screened at age 45 significantly reduce their risks of developing colon cancer by 50-60%.

Why there's a focus on women

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer for both men and women. In 2022, it's estimated that there will be 106,180 new cases of colon cancer in the United States and 52,580 deaths. Over the course of a lifetime, one in 23 men and one in 25 women are at risk of developing colon cancer.

Though the likelihood is similar, VeryWell Health noted that symptoms in women are often confused with gynecological or menstrual issues. There are three symptoms in particular that are often mistaken: changes in bowel movements, abdominal cramping, and feeling tired. Those symptoms commonly occur while a woman is on her period, but they can also be signs of colon cancer — especially if they appear with other symptoms like bloody stools or unintended weight loss.

There are some risk factors that increase your chances of developing colon cancer, such as being African-American, older age, having a family history of colon cancer, having inflammatory bowel disease or another digestive disorder, and having Lynch syndrome. Other risk factors are more lifestyle-related and can be changed. Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, getting enough vitamin D, limiting red or processed meats, not smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption can all reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.