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Men braver than women over bowel cancer test

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by Cancer Research UK | News

25 February 2005

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Despite their well-documented reluctance to visit the doctor, men are more likely than women to take up invitations for bowel screening.

A Cancer Research UK study, published today in the Journal of Medical Screening1, has shown that 73 per cent of men turned up for an appointment compared with 67 per cent of women during a bowel screening trial. The report found that men were less likely than women to worry about embarrassment or discomfort associated with this method.

The screening test, called Flexible Sigmoidoscopy (FS)2, involves inserting a long thin tube fitted with a camera into the lower part of the bowel.

These results contrast with research into an alternative method of bowel screening called the Faecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)3 – a less invasive test which people can do at home and women are more likely to complete than men.

Scientists are currently researching which of these tests has the greatest potential to save lives.

The FS study found that men most likely to attend screening came from higher socio-economic groups, were married, employed, had better health and made fewer visits to their GPs. They also had a family history of bowel cancer.

Almost 8000 men and women aged between 55-64 were sent questionnaires asking about attitudes to bowel screening six months before an FS screening appointment. Of those around 70 per cent completed the questionnaire and turned up for their appointment.

Professor Jane Wardle, Director of Cancer Research UK’s health behaviour unit and lead author of the study, says: “When we looked at the barriers that prevented people from attending screening it was interesting to learn that women were more worried than men about the test being embarrassing or humiliating.

“This is surprising given that women are assumed to be more familiar with medical procedures. If women feel they might be embarrassed by the invasive characteristics of the FS test then it is important to investigate ways we can alleviate their concerns.

“Research is underway to discover whether women will be less embarrassed and so more likely to attend screening if they are offered a female doctor to carry out the test.”

Professor Robert Souhami, Executive Director of Policy and Communication at Cancer Research UK, says: “A national screening programme for bowel cancer was announced last year. From April 2006 people over 60 will be screened using the FOBT. If blood is detected this would be followed by colonoscopy to look for early cancers and polyps.

“Trials have shown that the FOBT cuts deaths from the disease by up to 20 per cent. The FS test is a more invasive process but one which may offer more reliable results than the FOBT. Research is continuing to evaluate the benefits of both tests.”