African Americans Are At Higher Risk For Colon Cancer

Good News and Bad News

A report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians had both good and bad news when it comes to colon cancer. First the good news – colorectal cancer diagnoses have been declining by 3% per year between the years 2004 and 2013, in adults aged 50 and older. The decline is good news indeed as rigorous screening guidelines are being credited with the decrease. More and more people are having screening colonoscopies, and doctors are finding and removing precancerous polyps before the colon cancer can develop.

So, what is the bad news? There has been a disturbing increase of colorectal diagnoses, 2% per year between the years 1993 and 2013, in people under the age of 50. Current screening guidelines do not include younger aged patients unless they fall into a personal high risk category like having a close family history of colon cancer or polyps or have been diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease. Many experts think that African Americans should be included in early screening. Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t cover across the board early screenings for African Americans.

Why African Americans?

Researchers are not sure why colon cancers affect African Americans differently from other races, but we do know that as a group they are diagnosed earlier and also have a lower survival rate than other races. This holds true even if you factor in access to medical care and health insurance coverage. So until the mystery is solved, what can you, as an African American do?

What Should I Do?

  1. First, watch for symptoms and report them to your doctor. Symptoms include: change in your bowel habits that lasts longer than a few weeks, rectal bleeding or blood in your stool (never ignore blood in the stool), persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas or pain, feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.
  2. Next, investigate family history of the disease. Talk to relatives and ask questions. If you have multiple family members including parents, siblings, multiple aunts or uncles who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer it can increase your risk of developing the disease.
  3. Take a look at your diet. Eating a low fat, high fiber diet can lower your risk. Make sure you add a variety of vegetables and fruits to your diet and try to get regular exercise.
  4. Finally, talk to a TDDC gastroenterologist to define your personal risk and make recommendations on screenings.

TDDC has many locations , all staffed with experienced doctors who can discuss your risk and evaluate your need for a colonoscopy.