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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Fighting Colorectal Cancer in Blacks

Colorectal Cancer Death Rates Higher in African-Americans Despite Progress


The report says that:

  • 91% of new cases and 94% of deaths occur in people 50 and older.
  • The incidence rate is 14 times higher in adults 50 and older than in people under 50.
  • Colorectal cancer incidence and death rates are 35% higher in men than in women, possibly attributable to a higher frequency of abdominal obesity, smoking, and drinking in men, as well as hormonal differences.
  • Colorectal cancer incidence rates are more than 20% higher for African-Americans than whites, and death rates 45% higher.

"We've made remarkable progress in reducing death and suffering from colorectal cancer," says Elizabeth Fontham, MPH, DrPH, of Louisiana State University, who is the national volunteer president of the ACS. "But as this report shows, there's more work to be done to ensure all Americans have access to" tests for detecting the disease very early or even preventing it.

Scientists still aren't completely certain they know all the reasons why the racial disparity exists, Brooks says.

"Something to keep in mind is that African-Americans have been hearing for years they have highest rates for cancers, bad this, bad that," Brooks says. "It's important to make the point that African-American colorectal cancer and incidence rates and death rates are falling and have been falling for over a decade. They are being screened at much higher rates. There is a question whether or not there may be some biologic differences that we don't have a clear explanation for."

He says "lifestyle issues may be involved, as well as obesity," but no one yet knows for sure. It's likely, Brooks adds, that the disparity between blacks and whites can be attributed to screening patterns and cultural differences in attitudes.

Brooks says many people put off or avoid colonoscopies, which he calls the "gold standard" of screening, because of the high cost and the requirement for people to cleanse their bowels before procedures. But there are other less invasive and uncomfortable methods doctors can use, he says.

"We will narrow the gap," Brooks says. "We need to get African-Americans screened early at rates at least as high as their white counterparts."

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