Why Colon Cancer Awareness Should Begin Early for Many Blacks

Dr. Lynn M. O’Connor is the Director of the Women’s Colorectal Care Program in New York City.

March was officially dedicated as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month in February 2000 by President Bill Clinton. Since that time, the month has been recognized as a time to specifically call attention to the need for increased colon cancer awareness, screening and prevention.

Colon and rectal cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States of America. The American Cancer Society, estimates that this year alone, 136,830 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and of those diagnosed, 50,310 will die from this disease.

Though these numbers may seem high, they are decreasing as the incidence and mortality of colon and rectal cancer is declining – most in part due to the greater awareness of the disease and increased screening.

However, the decline in the incidence and death is occurring much slower for the African American population. African Americans tend to have the highest rate of death and the lowest rate of survival when compared with all other racial groups.

Colorectal cancer rates were 25 percent higher and mortality rates were 50 percent higher in African Americans versus Caucasians. African Americans were also more likely to be diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease. This finding has been attributed to lower screening rates in minorities, later stage of disease at presentation and diminished access to healthcare.

The average lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 20 (5%). The exact cause of colon and rectal cancer is not known but there are several risk factors that have been thought to be associated with its development.

Genetics, age greater than 50, family history of colon cancer and colon polyps, obesity, sedentary life style and smoking are some of the risk factors identified. Diets high in red meat and fat and low in fiber, calcium and folate have also been thought to be linked to the development of colon cancer.

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Source: NBC News | LYNN M. O’CONNOR