Many women prefer to have colonoscopy performed by a female doctor, new research shows.

In colonoscopy, a doctor guides a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera through the colon to check for cancer or polyps -- a benign growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum that could become cancerous.

Coloncancer is third most common cancer and the No. 2 cause of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S., write the researchers. They included Stacy Menees, MD, of the gastroenterology division of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

The researchers asked about 200 women about colonoscopy. Nearly half of the women replied that they would prefer a female colonoscopist. Many of them said that they would be embarrassed to get the test from a male doctor.

The study appears in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

Read WebMD's "What to Expect During a Colonoscopy"

Test Can Save Lives

Early detection can make a big difference in surviving colon cancer.

"If everyone aged 50 and older had regular colorectal cancer screening tests, more than one-third of deaths from this cancer could be avoided," states the CDC's web site.

The CDC recommends colon cancer screening starting at age 50, or earlier for people at higher risk of the disease. There are several ways to screen for colon cancer. Colonoscopy is one of several methods to screen for colon cancer (though no test is perfect).

Read WebMD's "What Colon Cancer Test is Best for Women?"

Does a Doctor's Sex Matter?

The study included about 200 women who were waiting in their doctors' offices for primary care appointments. The women were about 53 years old, on average. Most were white, employed, had attended or graduated from college, and had high incomes.

In anonymous surveys, 43 percent indicated they wanted a female colonoscopist. Of those women, 87 percent stated that they would wait more than 30 days for a female colonoscopist, and 14 percent stated that they were willing to pay more for a female doctor.

How much more were those women willing to pay? Up to $200 as an out-of-pocket expense, write the researchers.

Of the women who preferred a female colonoscopist, a few (5 percent) declared that they wouldn't get a colonoscopy unless they were guaranteed to get a female doctor.

No. 1 Reason Women Docs Wanted: Embarrassment

Most of the women didn't have anything against male doctors. Instead, the biggest reason for preferring a female colonoscopist was embarrassment, write the researchers.

Among the women who wanted a female colonoscopist, three-fourths called embarrassment the reason for their choice. Half also said they felt that a doctor of the same sex would be more empathetic.

Read WebMD's "Women's Top 5 Health Concerns"

Different Views for Experienced Patients

A little more than half of the participants at average risk for colon cancer had already had a colonoscopy. They were 61 percent less likely to have a preference about their colonoscopist's sex.

"This finding should focus the primary care physician's attention toward women patients who have previously not been screened with colonoscopy," write the researchers.

"It also may reassure women that the potential concerns of the procedure actually decrease, because women with previous colonoscopies did not have a gender preference."

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Menees, S. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, August 2005; vol 62: pp 219-223. CDC: "Facts on Screening." News release, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy .