Digestion Could Account for Differences in Colon Cancer Among Men, Women

New study may result in targeted colon cancer prevention measures.

Although women are less likely to develop colon cancer than men, they have higher rates of right-sided colon cancer, which is linked to worse outcomes since it is close in proximity to the small intestine.

Colorectal cancer results in more than 50,000 people each year, and is a leading cause of death for both sexes. While this cancer is avoidable through a healthy diet, many Americans develop this cancer each year.

A new study being conducted by the Yale Cancer Center suggests that digestion differences could result in sex disparities for colon cancer, according to a press release.

In the study, the authors plan to analyze hormones and environmental factors linked to metabolite production and gut bacteria.

“Colon cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed among women worldwide,” said researcher Caroline Helen Johnson, PhD. “This work will benefit all women, particularly black women, who are at higher risk for colon cancer compared with other races or ethnic groups.”

Bacteria in the colon secrete organic molecules that help the body absorb nutrients; however, in high volumes, the molecules can lead to cancer, according to the researchers.

The hormone estradiol controls bile production and is associated with protection against colon cancer due to findings that premenopausal women have higher levels of the hormone and lower cholesterol compared with men; however, after menopause, cholesterol levels surpass those in men.

“It is clear that we need a greater understanding of the way hormones, cholesterol, and the metabolic action of bacteria in the colon react to form colon cancer differently in women and men,” Dr Johnson said.

The investigators plan to use metabolomics to examine the “fingerprints” of the metabolic processes used by bacteria in colon cancer to determine the link between products of the process and which side of the colon develops cancer, according to the release.

The authors hypothesize that the results will confirm that women have a greater risk of right-side cancer due to reductions in estradiol after menopause.

Additionally, the investigators believe that the study findings could identify colon cancer markers that could lead to early diagnosis and treatment. The results may also result in interventions that target diet, the gut microbiome, and lifestyle to lower the risk of colon cancer, according to the authors.