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Women Want Women MDs to Do Colon Screenings

One in 20 Won't Undergo Colonoscopy Unless Guaranteed a Female Endoscopist
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WebMD Health News

May 19, 2004 (New Orleans) -- For years, doctors have blamed poor rates of colonoscopy screening on the discomfort associated with the procedure. Now, University of Michigan researchers report they have uncovered a previously overlooked culprit -- at least for women: a shortage of female specialists to perform the screening test.

In a survey of just more than 200 women, more than four in 10 said they preferred that a woman perform the procedure.

More important, 5% of the women said they would absolutely not undergo a colonoscopy unless guaranteed a female endoscopist, says researcher Stacy Menees, MD, a fellow in gastroenterology. An endoscopist is a doctor trained to perform complex scoping procedures such as colonoscopy. Often they are gastroenterologists.

In some ways, the findings are not that surprising as other studies have shown that, in general, up to 60% of women prefer a doctor of the same sex, she says.

But in this case, the preference can be deadly. "Colonoscopy can catch abnormal growths [in the colon or rectum] early, before they turn cancerous," Menees tells WebMD. "Yet women are delaying and -- in some cases -- skipping the procedure altogether because a female health care worker is not available to them."

Only about half of peoplewho should undergo colon cancer screening actually have the test, studies show.

There are several tests that may be performed to screen for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about which test(s) are best for you. They include:

  • Digital rectal exam to feel for abnormalities in the rectum.
  • Fecal occult blood test checks for blood in the stool that may be invisible to the eye. IT can be performed at home. The test is recommended annually after age 50 for most people.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a scoping test used to look at the lower third of the colon and rectum. If an abnormality if found, the doctor can take a tissue sample (biopsy) for laboratory analysis. This test is recommended every five years beginning at age 50 for most people.
  • Colonoscopy is an alternative to the flexible sigmoidoscopy test. It's performed by a gastroenterologist (endoscopist). After a bowel cleansing, the doctor can look at the entire colon and rectum for abnormalities and take biopsies if abnormalities are found. Some experts recommend colonoscopy over flexible sigmoidoscopy.

People at average risk for colorectal cancer should start regular screening at age 50. People at increased risk should start at age 40.

Other Deterrents to Screening

Other reasons women shun colon screenings include aversion to the test preparation. The night before the procedure, patients must drink a gallon of bitter liquid to flush out the colon. Another reason is the test itself, which involves snaking a long tube up the rectum and into the colon. Also, 18% of the women said they skipped the test because of discomfort, the survey shows.

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