Men's health * 50+ health * Healthy living

Should men be screened for bowel cancer at a younger age?

Should men be screened for bowel cancer at a younger age? More at risk at an earlier age, study finds

Men may need to be screened for bowel cancer at a younger age than women, research suggests.

A study of more than 40,000 colonoscopies of people in their 50s and 60s found that men were more likely to have pre-cancerous growths - polyps - than women, and at a younger age.

Men also had a higher rate of advanced tumours compared to women in all age groups, the study published in JAMA found.

In Austria, where the study was carried out, colonoscopy screening for bowel cancer starts at age 50, for both men and women. Doctors look for the presence of benign growths known as adenomas or polyps, which can develop into cancer.

Researchers at the Austrian Society for Gastroenterology and Hepatology wanted to find out the best age for colonoscopy screening for both men and women to detect polyps and cancerous tumours.

They analysed the colonoscopy results of 44,350 men and women, with an average age of 60.

Overall, polyps were detected in 34.4 per cent of patients, colon cancer in 0.4 per cent and rectal cancer in 0.2 per cent.

Nearly a quarter of men had polyps compared to 14.8 per cent of women.

In men aged 50 to 54, some 18.5 per cent had polyps, compared to just 10.7 per cent of women. The researchers said the proportion of men in this age group with polyps was similar to that found in 60 to 65 year old women.

Men in their mid-fifties also had a rate of colorectal cancer similar to that found in 60 to 64 year old women.

The study findings suggest that colonoscopy screening should be sex-specific, the researchers said. They also added that the male sex may be an 'independent risk factor' for the disease.

The researchers noted: "Deciding whether to adjust the age at which screening begins also requires considering whether the recommended age for women should be older or the recommended age for men younger.

"Further prospective studies are needed to demonstrate the relative clinical effectiveness of screening at different ages."

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland people are offered bowel cancer screening from the age of 60, and 50 in Scotland. Under the NHS Bowel Screening Programme people are sent screening kits.

The test requires a small smear of faeces to be applied to a card which is then sent back to a laboratory, which then checks for the presence of blood. If the test is positive, further tests may be done, including a colonoscopy.

This article was published on Wed 28 September 2011

Image © Andrey Ushakov -

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