March 16, 2021
If you could have a test that could prevent you from developing colon cancer, would you say no? Unfortunately, too many Americans are doing exactly that. This is particularly true in the Black community. Despite having the highest incidence of colorectal cancer and the shortest survival rate of any racial or ethnic group, Black Americans are less likely to be screened by getting a colonoscopy.
Colon Cancer Statistics and Racial Differences
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer in men and women in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 140,000 new cases are diagnosed in this country every year and more than 50,000 people die from the disease. African Americans are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die as a result.
Colon cancer screening, including colonoscopy, could have played a life-saving role in thousands of these deaths. When caught early, colon cancer is highly treatable.
Colonoscopies Save Lives
Clinical studies have documented that colonoscopy prevents death from colon cancer.
According to federal estimates, however, only 6 in 10 adults are up-to-date in following the screening recommendations. In general, you should start screening for colorectal cancer at age 50—earlier if you have a family history of the disease or signs that you may have a problem. These signs include:
- A change in bowel habits.
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
- Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away.
- Losing weight and you don’t know why.
What Is A Colonoscopy?
During a colonoscopy, your doctor examines the inside of your large intestine by inserting a tube with a tiny camera into your rectum. You need to take strong laxatives the day before to clean out your intestine. During the actual exam, you’ll most likely be sedated so you won’t feel a thing.
If precancerous polyps are spotted, they can be removed immediately. While not every polyp turns into cancer, nearly all colorectal cancers start out as adenomatous polyps.
Research has shown that removing precancerous polyps decreases the incidence and likelihood of dying from colorectal cancer. If cancer is present it can be detected at an earlier, more treatable stage. Colonoscopy saves lives—the most important statistic of any cancer screening.
Colon cancer is one of the few cancers that a screening test can prevent. But the exam only works if people use it.
Why do People Delay Colonoscopy?
There are many reasons people delay this life-saving test. Some are simply embarrassed. Others are deterred by the bowel preparation, which is often the toughest part. Cost is another factor if the test is not covered by your insurance plan.
Research shows that for African Americans, socioeconomic factors, often combined with a deeply-ingrained distrust of the health-care system, can impact seeking the recommended colorectal cancer screenings.
Regardless of misgivings people may have about colonoscopy, it’s critical to understand the life-saving potential of this test. And unlike other cancer screenings, you only need a colonoscopy every 10 years if no polyps are detected.
Talk to your doctor about colonoscopy and whether it's time for you to have this important screening.