The Power of Fecal Occult Blood Testing: Women and Colorectal Cancer
March is Colorectal Cancer Education and Awareness Month and Women’s History Month. So this month, let’s look at women’s history with colon and rectum health. People often think colorectal cancer is a man’s disease due to slightly higher incidence rates in men than in women. According to the American Cancer Society, the average lifetime risk of colon cancer for men is about 1 in 23, while the average lifetime risk for women is about 1 in 26. However, the difference in rates between the two genders has decreased over time and will continue to narrow in the future.
The non-specific symptoms of colon cancer in women are similar to those of other conditions, making it easy to mistake this cancer for something else.
Some of the symptoms of colon cancer in women:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
- Feeling like the bowel does not empty completely
- Iron-deficiency anemia
These symptoms fall under other more common health conditions for women, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), hemorrhoids, and different types of cancer. Each year, 65,000 women are diagnosed with colon cancer, and forty percent of those women will ultimately die of the disease. However, colorectal cancer in women is highly curable when diagnosed early, demonstrating the importance of screening programs1.
Early detection is critical for the successful treatment of colon cancer. Several screening tests are available to detect early signs of colorectal cancer. A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) checks for hidden blood in the stool. A highly cost-effective, non-invasive, and accurate guaiac fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), like Seracult® and Seracult Plus®, uses a chemical (guaiac) to find blood in the stool. Often the sample collection for FOBTs can be done at home and returned to the doctor’s office for testing, making them convenient and more comfortable for patients. A clinic or hospital setting can also administer the test.
Depending on the patient’s age and risk factors and the clinical evaluation of a physician, blood in the stool will often lead to more invasive screening methods, including colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, to evaluate the cause of the blood. Blood in the stool is an indication that there is bleeding within the digestive tract, which can be an early sign of cancer or a sign of several other issues which may require treatment.
A positive test on a screening test for colorectal cancer in women does not mean the patient will undergo any treatment, as additional diagnostic testing is needed. For those patients diagnosed with colon cancer, according to Johns Hopkins2, “the most common treatment for early-stage colon cancer is surgery, and some patients with the early-stage disease may also receive chemotherapy after surgery.” Early screening and treatment are associated with high survival rates.
With this in mind, Propper Manufacturing Company reminds clinicians to offer screening tests to all patients who meet the United States Preventive Task Force3 criteria. Especially in helping women focus on their health, receive regular check-ups and screenings in the battle against colon cancer.
- DONOVAN, J. O. A. N. N. E. M., & SYNGAL, S. A. P. N. A. (1998). Colorectal cancer in women: An underappreciated but preventable risk. Journal of Women’s Health, 7(1), 45–48.
- Colon cancer treatment. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2022
- Colorectal cancer: Screening. Recommendation: Colorectal Cancer: Screening | United States Preventive Services Taskforce. (2021, May 18). Retrieved February 20, 2022