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How Often Should Women Get A Colonoscopy?

Dr QM Leong
Dr QM Leong

In our quest for healthy living and preventive healthcare, routine screenings and check-ups are the key. One such vital procedure is a colonoscopy, an effective screening test to detect colorectal cancer and pre-cancerous polyps.

A colonoscopy is a medical procedure where a physician inserts a long, flexible tube into the rectum to view the entire colon. This procedure allows doctors to detect colorectal cancer and pre-cancerous polyps early.

Today we delve into the issue of how often women should get a colonoscopy. We assess biological differences that lead to differences in how women undergo colonoscopy screenings.


Biological Differences: Women And Colonoscopy

The colonoscopy procedure itself is identical for men and women. However, a colonoscopy for women can sometimes be a bit more complex due to anatomical differences.

For instance, the female colon may be longer and more complex, especially in women who have had children, due to the additional space occupied by the uterus. 

This space can potentially lengthen the procedure time. On average, a colonoscopy can take between 30 minutes to an hour, though the entire process usually requires the patient to consume only clear liquids the day before and can take up to two days.


Factors That Influence Frequency Of Colonoscopy

Maintaining good health entails responsibilities, including regular preventive screenings. Understanding the factors influencing how often a woman should get a colonoscopy is crucial for timely prevention and detection of colorectal cancer. Remember, the decision regarding how often a woman should get a colonoscopy should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider. The health provider will help evaluate individual risk and make recommendations based on unique circumstances.


Age is a significant factor in determining the frequency of colonoscopies. The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer start screenings once they hit 45 or 50. A colonoscopy is generally repeated every ten years if the findings are normal.

Personal Medical History

Women with a history of colorectal cancer or pre-cancerous polyps are more likely to develop new cancers in other areas of the colon and rectum. The same goes for women with a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

In such cases, colonoscopies should be done more frequently, usually every 1-3 years, depending on the case.

Family Medical History

If a woman has a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer or pre-cancerous polyps, she might need to start screening earlier and have it more frequently. This also applies if there is a history of hereditary colorectal cancer syndromes.

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle-related factors can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. These include obesity, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol use, and a diet high in red or processed meats. Women with one or more risk factors may need more frequent colonoscopies.

Results From Previous Colonoscopies

A woman’s most recent colonoscopy findings will significantly influence when she should have her next one. If her doctor finds polyps during a colonoscopy, the type, size, and number of polyps will determine the frequency of future screenings.

So, Should Women Get Colonoscopies?

To reiterate, men and women at average risk should start regular colonoscopies at age 45 or 50. The frequency of screenings will then depend on various risk factors and the findings from the initial colonoscopy.

If your first and subsequent colonoscopy does not detect any abnormalities, you’ll typically need a colonoscopy every ten years. 

However, if you have a higher risk due to a family or personal history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or other factors mentioned above,  your doctor may recommend getting a colonoscopy more frequently. 

Always note that these are general guidelines; your specific frequency should be determined in consultation with your healthcare provider.


Awareness and Accessibility: Challenges For Women

Despite the importance of colonoscopies, women may face unique societal and psychological hurdles in accessing these crucial tests. Factors such as caregiving responsibilities or apprehensions about the procedure can deter women from scheduling colonoscopies.

Raising awareness about the procedure’s significance is crucial to overcome these challenges. Women must understand that although colon cancer has been stereotypically viewed as a “men’s disease,” the risk is considerable for both genders, making regular screenings vital for early detection and treatment.


Conclusion On How Often Should Women Get A Colonoscopy

In conclusion, colonoscopy for women is as crucial as for men. Women at a higher risk due to various factors should consider getting their first colonoscopy earlier and more frequently. Open discussions with healthcare providers can ensure women understand their risk profile and the necessity of regular screenings. 

Regardless of the slight differences in how colonoscopies may be conducted for women, the goal remains that early detection increases the chances of success.

Diverse factors, including age, medical and family history, and lifestyle habits, steer the frequency of colonoscopies in women. Discussing these aspects with your healthcare provider to establish a personalised and effective colonoscopy schedule is vital. Always remember, your health is paramount—prioritise it.

Consult with Dr Leong today. He is a colorectal surgeon in Singapore specialising in the diagnosis of colon/colorectal cancer, and addressing a range of colorectal problems like:


Frequently Asked Questions On How Often Should Women Get A Colonoscopy?

How Can I Best Prepare For My First Colonoscopy?

Preparation for a colonoscopy, often known as a ‘bowel prep’, involves consuming only clear liquids for 24 hours before the procedure. You’ll also take a strong laxative prescribed by your doctor to empty your colon. Carefully following your doctor’s instructions is essential to ensure the colonoscopy is successful.

Does A Colonoscopy Hurt?

Most people do not find a colonoscopy painful. Sedation or anaesthesia is typically used, and you may feel drowsy or relaxed during the procedure. Some people might feel minor discomfort or pressure when the scope is inserted, or air is blown into the colon.

Is There An Alternative To Colonoscopy For Colorectal Cancer Screening?

Yes, there are several alternatives to colonoscopy, including stool-based tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and CT colonography. However, if these tests reveal any abnormalities, a colonoscopy might still be necessary for further investigation. Each screening method has pros and cons, so discussing these options with your doctor is important.

If I Have No Symptoms, Do I Still Need A Colonoscopy?

Yes. Colorectal cancer often begins with no symptoms, so regular screening is important. Even if you feel healthy and have no symptoms, following the recommended screening guidelines for your age and risk level can help detect potential problems early when treatment is most effective.

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