The risk of bowel cancer is greater among women than among men and Australian researchers suspect menopause is to blame.
In a Sydney study that was carried on 1200 bowel cancer patients, females were found to be 48 per cent more likely to die from their disease compared to males. On further examination of the statistics it was found that women aged 50 and under actually had a better survival rate than men.
The national Australian Gastroenterology Week conference in Adelaide today revealed that women over this age had the worst results in the study, presented at.
According to Dr Ken Koo, a gastroenterologist with the Sydney South West Area Health Service, the results suggested a possible biological event after menopause made women more susceptible to death from bowel cancer.
Dr Koo said, "This is indirect evidence that as oestrogen levels fall, a woman's risk of dying from bowel cancer increases. It certainly adds to the view that oestrogen is protective against bowel cancer."
Analysis of the data, collected from the South Western Sydney Colorectal Tumour Group registry between 2000 and 2004, also revealed that women were more likely to present with complications of bowel cancer often requiring urgent surgery.
Dr Koo said this might be because females are more likely to develop cancer on the right side of the bowel where it tends to stay clinically "silent" for longer, without obvious symptoms. This could also make women less aware of the disease.
However he said that verification of his findings in other cancer registries' studies is needed before investigation of the e links between oestrogen and bowel cancer at a molecular level.
Dr Koo said, "At this stage there is insufficient evidence to indicate that female gender represents an independent risk factor for bowel cancer."
He said that the best recommendation for both sexes was to see their doctor about any symptoms like rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss and anaemia, specifically iron-deficiency anaemia.
He also recommended that they should get tested as part of the national screening program launched in August and being rolled out nationwide to people in their 50s and 60s.
Criticizing some health ministers for their lack of enthusiasm towards the program, gastroenterologist Finlay Macrae said, "Some states are painfully slow to recognize the significance of this initiative for their constituents. After all, one in nine Australians has a first degree relative with bowel cancer and many are affected themselves."