Current colorectal cancer screening guidelines recommend that both men and women begin colonoscopy screening at age 50, according to background information in the study. People who have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer are advised to begin screening earlier. How early depends on their particular risk factors, said Bernstein.
Ferlitsch and her colleagues began the study because other research had shown that men were at greater risk of having advanced colorectal cancers than women, and they wondered if earlier screening might catch some of these cancers at an earlier, more treatable -- or even preventable -- stage.
Their study included 44,350 Austrians who participated in a national colonoscopy screening program. The average age of the study participants was 60.7 years for men and 60.6 years for women. Just over 1,600 of the study participants were under 50, according to the study.
Overall, the researchers found polyps in 34.4 percent of those screened. They also found colon cancer in 0.4 percent and rectal cancer in 0.2 percent. When polyps are found in a colonoscopy, they can be removed before they have a chance to develop into cancer. Most polyps are adenomas, which are considered precancerous.
Nearly one-quarter of men had polyps compared to 14.8 percent of the women. Almost 19 percent of men between the ages of 50 and 54 had polyps. In women of the same age, just 11 percent had polyps. However, a similar number of older women -- those between 65 and 69 years -- had about the same rate of polyps as the younger men, the study found.
"It is worth it to get screening colonoscopy early enough -- if you are 50 years old if you are a woman, and if it's possible, if you are 45 years old if you are a man -- since 35 percent of healthy, asymptomatic individuals have polyps and 20 percent of all those have adenomas, which are really easy to remove before they develop into colorectal cancer," said Ferlitsch.
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