African Americans At Higher Risk for Colon Cancer

By Anthony D. Williams, MD

The third leading cause of cancer death in the United States is colorectal cancer, otherwise known as cancer of the colon or rectum. While men and women are equally at risk of developing colorectal cancer, research shows African Americans have higher incidence and mortality rates than those who are White. The reasons for this are still mostly undetermined, and research continues among the medical community to gain a greater understanding of the cause of colorectal cancer, its prevention, and treatment.

Accounting for more than 50,000 deaths each year, colorectal cancer death is 90 percent preventable if identified in its early stage. And, because about 75 percent of those diagnosed with colorectal cancer have no known risk factors, ongoing education about colorectal cancer risks and regular screening colonoscopies are recommended.

Colonoscopy is the primary method for the early identification and removal of pre-cancerous polyps or and the detection and treatment of early-stage colon cancer masses. Combined with regular discussions with a healthcare provider about colon health and risk factors, colonoscopy serves as an important tool in the prevention of colorectal cancer among all ages and ethnicities.

Some individuals are at a higher risk due to age, personal or family history, and the types of foods eaten. Excessive consumption of alcohol or tobacco use are also linked to colon cancer. Current guidelines for colorectal screening call for a colonoscopy to be performed beginning at age 50 and every 10 years thereafter unless symptoms develop, or other risk factors are identified. For African Americans, because of the higher incidence and mortality rates, screenings are now recommended at age 45.

Lower screening rates among African Americans may account for the higher incident rates, although lack of access to medical providers or a lack of information could also be factors. Fear is another reason why some put off colonoscopy screening – fear of the unknown and fear of a positive cancer diagnosis. Research has shown that education about colon cancer risks and the benefits of colonoscopy screening increases the likelihood of an individual scheduling a life-saving colonoscopy procedure. Again, early removal of pre-cancerous polyps or the early treatment of a cancer mass are the key to prevention and survival of colorectal cancer.

Colonoscopy screening is generally painless and vitally important for the diagnosis and removal of pre-cancerous polyps. Talking to a doctor about colon cancer risks and getting a colonoscopy as recommended are important for a lifetime of good colon health.

To speak with a colon health expert or book an appointment for a colonoscopy, call Sinai Grace Hospital at 313-578-0914.


Dr. Anthony Williams is a native of Detroit and a board-certified gastroenterologist affiliated with Detroit Medical Center’s Sinai-Grace Hospital. He received his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and completed a gastroenterology/hepatology fellowship at Cook County Hospitals in Chicago, IL. He is a Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology.



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