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The Facts African Americans Need to Know About Colon Cancer

Oak Brook, Ill. -- February 14, 2008 -- Each year more than 150,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colon cancer and over 50,000 will die from the disease. Death rates from colon cancer are higher among African Americans than any other population group in the U.S. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), representing the specialists in colon cancer screening, advises African Americans to speak to their physician about getting screened for colon cancer. 

“Colon cancer is preventable with regular screening and is curable when detected early,” said ASGE President Grace H. Elta, MD, FASGE. “All men and women are at risk for colon cancer and should begin screening for the disease at age 50. It concerns me that African Americans are being diagnosed with colon cancer at a higher rate than other populations.  This disease does not discriminate against race or gender, your age is the single most important risk factor.  I encourage African Americans to talk to their doctor about colon cancer screening.”

Colorectal cancer, also referred to as colon cancer, is cancer of the colon or rectum and is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for men and women combined. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among African American men and women, with more than 16,000 cases estimated to be diagnosed each year and approximately 7,000 deaths annually. Some people are at a higher risk for the disease because of age, lifestyle or personal and family medical history. People who are diagnosed at early stages have a 90 percent chance of a cure and surviving. That is why screening for prevention and early detection is so important. Some studies have shown that African Americans are more frequently diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age, leading some experts to suggest that African Americans begin screening prior to age 50.  African Americans should ask their physician about an appropriate screening schedule.

Polyps are grapelike growths on the lining of the colon or rectum that may become cancer. These polyps can be removed to prevent cancer from occurring. Colonoscopy, when performed by a well-trained endoscopist, gastroenterologist or surgeon, is the most effective screening test. Colonoscopy plays an important role in colon cancer prevention because precancerous polyps can be removed when they are discovered during the procedure.

Here are a few important facts African Americans need to know about colon cancer:

  • The rate of being diagnosed with colon cancer is higher among African Americans than among any other population group in the U.S.
  • Death rates from colon cancer are higher among African Americans than any other population group in the U.S.
  • Colon cancer is the third most common cancer among African Americans, with more than 16,000 cases estimated to be diagnosed each year and approximately 7,000 deaths annually.
  • There is evidence that African Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have screening tests for colon cancer.
  • African Americans are less likely than Caucasians to have colorectal polyps detected at a time when they can easily be removed.
  • African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer in advanced stages when there are fewer treatment options available. They are less likely to live five or more years after being diagnosed with colon cancer than other populations.
  • Diet, tobacco use and a lack of access to equal medical treatment options may increase African Americans’ risk of developing colon cancer.
  • There may also be genetic factors that contribute to the higher incidence of colon cancer among some African Americans. Learn your family’s medical history and tell your health care professional if a relative — parent, brother, sister or child — has had colon cancer or colorectal polyps.
  • African American women have the same probability of getting colon cancer as men, and are more likely to die of colon cancer than are women of any other population group.
  • African American patients experience a larger number of polyps on the right side of the colon, versus the left. A screening endoscopy must cover the entire colon, as is performed with a colonoscopy.

For more information about colorectal cancer screening or to find a qualified physician, visit ASGE's colorectal cancer awareness Web site at www.screen4coloncancer.org.

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About the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
Founded in 1941, the mission of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy is to be the leader in advancing patient care and digestive health by promoting excellence in gastrointestinal endoscopy. ASGE, with more than 10,000 physician members worldwide, promotes the highest standards for endoscopic training and practice, fosters endoscopic research, recognizes distinguished contributions to endoscopy, and is the foremost resource for endoscopic education.

About Endoscopy
Endoscopy is performed by specially-trained physicians called endoscopists using the most current technology to diagnose and treat diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Using flexible, thin tubes called endoscopes, endoscopists are able to access the human digestive tract without incisions via natural orifices. Endoscopes are designed with high-intensity lighting and fitted with precision devices that allow viewing and treatment of the gastrointestinal system. In many cases, screening or treatment of conditions can be delivered via the endoscope without the need for further sedation, treatment or hospital stay.