Personal social media post hopes African Americans get screened for colon cancer
Every March, my cousin Patrick, 32, posts a happy “heavenly” birthday message to honor his paternal grandmother and maternal uncle, who both died of colon cancer. March, ironically, is Colorectal Awareness Month. Patrick adds a plea for his Facebook friends to get screened for this slow-growing, highly treatable cancer. His grandmother died shortly after her 80th birthday (she beat colon cancer at a young age but never followed up with her screenings – it came back as rectal cancer). His uncle was only 46 and Patrick wasn’t sure if he ever got screened.
“African American’s have higher chances of dying from colon cancer and having colon cancer discovered that is more advanced,” said Khayree Butler, M.D., a colorectal surgeon at Legacy Medical Group Gastrointestinal Surgery. “Additionally, African American’s tend to develop cancer at a younger age.”
The colon is the large intestine that wraps around the small intestine, all a part of the digestive system. Cancers that start in the colon and rectum are called colorectal cancers. Most cancers develop first as polyps, or small bumps, which are abnormal growths that may become cancerous if not removed. Changes in bowel habits, like dark, tarry stools; blood in the toilet; diarrhea and constipation lasting a few days; narrow stools; and unintended weight loss could signal a problem. Call your doctor.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the US and the third most common cancer. African Americans have the highest cancer death rates for most cancers. Regular check-ups and preventative screenings, like for colorectal cancer, should stay on the radar screen. Also, it’s important to know what your risk factors for cancer.
A risk factor is anything that heightens your chance of getting a disease. You can change some risk factors, like obesity (losing weight) smoking tobacco (quitting) or alcohol (drinking moderately). There are other risk factors that you can’t like age or a family history of cancer. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends screening at age 50 for average-risk persons (those without a family history of colon cancer), and the American Cancer Society recommends African Americans start regular screenings at age 45 for the best chance of catching any typically slow-growing polyps early to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
Why don’t more people get screened? That’s a good question. Unfortunately, some doctors may not be knowledgeable on specific race/ethnicity guidelines for patients. On the other hand, you should be aware of recommended preventive screenings guidelines for your age and race/ethnicity and discuss plans with your doctor. Some people are squeamish about colorectal screenings or believe they will hurt. There are a variety of colorectal screening tests, such as at-home stool kits. Research on your own and ask your doctor which one is right for you.
Private health insurance policies usually cover colorectal cancer screening tests without paying a deductible or co-pay. Check your health plan. You can call the Oregon Health Authority or Washington State Health Care Authority for more information and community resources.
Patrick’s grandmother, my aunt, and the family matriarch spent her 80th birthday in the hospital dying. Though heavily sedated, she smiled at the cinnamon roll with a candle stuck in it. Patrick, who is married and a new dad, knows he has to get tested for colon cancer early because the disease runs on both sides of his family. “I bet a getting a colonoscopy isn’t as painful as losing a loved one too soon.”
---Written by Vicki Guinn, Legacy Emanuel Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-413-2939.
American Cancer Society
Colorectal Cancer Alliance
American College of Gastroenterology
Office of Minority Health