Virtual Colonoscopy Allows Women To Be Screened Years Later Than Men

06/11/2013 01:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2013
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Tired of having to guzzle down that awful-tasting laxative preparation designed to get your colon squeaky clean prior to a colonoscopy? If so, here's some good news.

A new study has found that women can be screened for colorectal cancer at least five to 10 years later than men when undergoing an initial "virtual colonoscopy."

Published this week in Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings may help pave the way for the creation of guidelines as to how to use this screening technique, which is much less invasive than a traditional colonoscopy.

Detecting precancerous polyps through the use of imaging techniques such as a traditional colonoscopy may prevent colorectal cancer. But there are those who find the procedure too invasive. Others are simply not healthy enough to undergo it. A possible alternative is the virtual colonoscopy, which uses computerized tomography to create an animated, three-dimensional view of the inside of the large intestine.

However, no study has ever considered the age at which virtual colonoscopies should first be performed. To investigate, Dr. Cesare Hassan of the Nuovo Regina Margherita Hospital in Rome, Italy, and his colleagues studied 7,620 patients who were referred for a first-time screening using a virtual colonoscopy from 2004 to 2011. A total of 276 patients (3.6 percent) were ultimately diagnosed with advanced cancer. Age and gender were linked with advanced disease, while body mass index and a family history of cancer were not.

"We showed that the possibility for average-risk individuals to have clinically meaningful polyps detected by virtual colonoscopy is strictly associated with two main variables, namely age and sex," said Hassan in a press release. The researchers determined that 51 women under 55 years of age would need to be screened to detect one case of advanced neoplasia, compared with only 10 men older than 65 years.

"If you are a man, the best age to have a virtual colonoscopy is between 55 and 60 years, but if you are a woman, you can at least wait until 60 years," Hassan said in a press release.

Not including skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in this country, according to the American Cancer Society. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20.

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