The passing of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at age 44 offers a sobering reminder that cancer doesn’t just affect the elderly and unhealthy. By all accounts, Boseman was a healthy man in better shape than most men his age, but behind the scenes, he was battling late-stage colon cancer. It’s a reality that many have to face sooner than they ever imagined, and it disproportionately affects those in the African American community. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at colon cancer risk among African Americans, and we talk about screenings for at-risk individuals.
African American Colon Cancer Risk
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States, and it’s the second most common cause of cancer-related death, but it’s especially hard on the black community. African Americans are disproportionately affected by the condition, with an incidence rate that is more than 20 percent higher than in whites, and mortality rates are even more disproportionate. Moreover, African Americans are more likely than whites to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer at an earlier age and with a more advanced stage of disease.
So why are African Americans at such a heightened risk for colon cancer? There are some controllable factors, like diet, obesity and physical activity level, but these factors aren’t isolated to the black community. If anything, the three factors listed above can be applied pretty unilaterally to the United States.
One factor that tends to be more commonly applied to the African American community is access to preventative screenings. Socioeconomic challenges can limit access to regular preventative screenings. But the numbers show that even when African Americans have access to these screenings, they aren’t regularly getting them compared to other ethnic groups. Whether it’s a cultural choice or less understanding of the importance of regular screenings, especially for an at-risk group, fewer African Americans are getting preventative screenings when they should.
Finally, there’s the uncontrollable aspects. Studies have shown that genetics and molecular characteristics play a role in our body’s ability to prevent colon cancer from developing. And for whatever reason, their molecular designs oftentimes leave African Americans shorthanded in their fight against colon cancer.
Screenings And Prevention
It is imperative that you get regular screenings for colorectal cancer, especially if you are African American or if you have a history of colon cancer in your family. Don’t wait until you’re 50 to get your first screening either, because as we saw with Boseman, late stage cancer can develop well before you hit that milestone.
According to the American College of Gastroenterology, African Americans should get screened for colon cancer once they turn 45, but again, you don’t need to wait that long if you have any concerns about your gastrointestinal health. Talk about your family history or your risk of colon cancer with your primary care physician during yearly physicals or if you’re experiencing any issues that suggest there could be a problem with your colon.
Know the risk and encourage family and friends to get screened if they are at above-average risk for colon cancer. The numbers show that colon cancer can be very difficult to treat, but the earlier it’s detected, the greater the likelihood you’ll be able to treat it successfully. To set up your colon cancer screening, or to talk with a gastroenterologist about your risk and prevention strategies, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants today.