Both men and women are at risk for colorectal cancer. While it is more prominent in men, it can also be harder to detect in women. The most common signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer often present abdominally. Women can often mistake these symptoms as being related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menopause.
Symptoms such as a change in bowel habits, gas, abdominal pain or cramps, and fatigue are often associated with PMS. Therefore, women are more likely to overlook these symptoms as opposed to having them checked by a doctor.
Dr Ganesh explores some issues revolving around colorectal cancer in women. He answers some questions about colorectal cancer and how women can better distinguish gynaecological and colorectal problems.
Colorectal or Gynaecological?
It can be difficult for women to distinguish between colorectal and gynaecological symptoms. Both symptoms of colorectal cancer and that of PMS or menopause include:
- Change in bowel movements (diarrhoea or constipation)
- Cramping or abdominal discomfort
- Fatigue or weakness
Taking note of any irregular changes in your body as it can help distinguish the symptoms of PMS from something more severe like colorectal cancer.
We asked Dr Ganesh the following questions; they may be able to help you support your loved one cope with colorectal cancer:
- Do Men & Women With Colorectal Cancer Present With The Same Symptoms?
Although there are more incidences of colorectal cancer in men (38.2%)* than women (27.2%)*, both men and women generally exhibit similar symptoms of the disease.
Often, many patients only discover that they are diagnosed with colorectal cancer after a colonoscopy.
*Statistics taken from Singapore Cancer Society, 2016
- What Is Your Advice To Women Who Experience Vague Symptoms?
Trust your body, and if you are experiencing unusual changes relating to your bowel or suffering from sudden abdominal pain, consult your doctor, gynaecologist, or gastroenterologist.
- Is It Difficult To Distinguish Colorectal Cancer Symptoms From Other Stomach Or Gynaecological Conditions?
Yes, often the common symptoms relating to colorectal cancer can be labelled as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as bloating or a change in bowel habits.
Blood in the stools can also be caused by benign conditions such as haemorrhoids, so the diagnosis is not always straightforward. However, if a patient is experiencing sudden anaemia or weight loss coupled with the symptoms above, I would recommend an endoscopy to assess the situation better.
What Are The Tests I Should Go To Check For Colorectal Cancer?
Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT):
- Should be done yearly
- Non-invasive test
- Easy to self-administer
- No fasting required
- Available at the Singapore Cancer Society at no charge
- Should be done once every 10 years
- Can detect and remove pre-cancerous growths and polyps
- Conducted by a doctor in a specialist clinic
The risk of colorectal cancer increases once you hit 50 years of age.
While it can be challenging to differentiate monthly PMS-related symptoms from something more severe, like colorectal cancer, women should learn what to look out for.