African Americans and Colon Cancer

The rates of colorectal cancers (CRC) vary widely across the world. By continent, the highest rates occur in Australia/New Zealand, Europe, and North America, and the lowest rates are found in Africa and South-Central Asia. Most studies point to diet and environmental differences to explain the wide swing in the numbers.

The environmental and diet factors are particularly interesting in comparing colon cancer rates across the continent of Africa and African Americans. African Americans have the highest rate of colon cancer of any ethnic group in the country. Additionally, African Americans are more likely to develop aggressive colon cancers and have a higher death rate than other ethnic groups.

Guidelines by the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy state that screenings begin at 45 for African Americans, a full 5 years earlier than other ethnic groups. Unfortunately, the US recommendations do not differentiate according to race and the standard age for beginning screening colonoscopies is age 50.

Overall research has not found a definitive answer as to why African Americans are at such risk. So, if you are African American, what can you do to minimize your personal risk?  First, know your family history and discuss it with a gastroenterologist. Second, eat a low fat diet rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables and reduce your red meat intake. Third, get moving. Exercise is a great way to feel better all the way around and it also can reduce your risk. Finally, and most importantly, get screened! Screening colonoscopies  save lives – when found early colon cancer is over 90% curable. So, if you or someone you love is at risk and has not made an appointment for their colonoscopy, call the nearest office  of Texas Digestive Disease Consultants (TDDC).