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Women affected by emergency bowel cancer diagnoses

Friday November 3rd, 2017

Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with bowel cancer following an emergency hospital visit, researchers warn today.

A study finds that the women were just as likely as men to have visited their GP and demonstrating “red flag” symptoms – but were less likely to get a timely diagnosis, according to research unveiled today (3 November 2017).

A study by a team at University College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Exeter, analysed data from 2799 women and 2946 men diagnosed with bowel cancer in England between 2005 and 2010. Of these, 940 women (34%) and 874 men (30%) were diagnosed as an emergency.

Diagnosis following an emergency hospital visit means they have worse chance of survival because by then the disease is usually at an advanced stage.

At the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference in Liverpool today, Dr Cristina Renzi, one of the lead researchers based at UCL, said of the women diagnosed as an emergency, one in five had alarm symptoms such as a change in bowel habits or rectal bleeding the year before the emergency diagnosis compared 14.5% men.

Women were also more likely than men to be diagnosed with a less-serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), before being diagnosed with cancer.

Those who had received a less-serious diagnosis in the year before their emergency admission were more likely to be diagnosed with cancer following a later emergency hospital visit.

Dr Cristina Renzi, one of the lead researchers based at UCL, said: “This study suggests that it’s more difficult to pick up bowel cancer in women than men, since female tumours are often located in a part of the bowel which means symptoms can be confusing. IBS is also more common among women and shares many of the same symptoms as cancer.”

Dr Richard Roope, of Cancer Research UK, which helped to fund the study, said the most common symptom recorded for women in the study before they were diagnosed with cancer was stomach pain, which is usually associated with other women’s health conditions.

“This could explain why some men were diagnosed with colon cancer earlier, as stomach pains don’t have as many alternative explanations for men as they do for women,” he said.

“Sometimes diagnosing cancer is a process of elimination, so other conditions need to be eliminated first which means a longer wait for a cancer diagnosis.”

He added that GPs have been given new guidance since the data used in the study was collected in respect of recognising and referral for suspected cancers.

“Emergency diagnoses remain an issue though and efforts to improve this must continue,” added Dr Roope.

Abstract: Renzi C, Lyratzopoulos G, Rachet B. Gender inequalities in emergency colon cancer diagnosis: A longitudinal data-linkage study in England on pre-diagnostic clinical history and healthcare use.

Tags: Cancer | Gastroenterology | NHS | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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