Men and women are advised to begin getting colonoscopes by at least age 45.

The month of April has received the designation of National Minority Health Month.

While illnesses impact every demographic, it seems that minorities are affected at higher rates for certain illnesses like colorectal cancer.

“Colorectal cancer is highly treatable when caught early,” explained Dr. Cedrek McFadden, a colorectal surgeon and Alliance Medical Scientific Advisory Committee member. “Providing equity and access for minority and underserved communities with barriers to screening and care must be a priority to help decrease incidence and mortality rates.”

According to a press release by Colorectal Cancer Alliance, “Disparities in healthcare are widespread and associated with worse health outcomes because they limit access to equitable screening and treatment for many, particularly Black Americans, American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN), and Hispanic Americans, who are disproportionately affected by colorectal cancer. These minority groups are in dire need of colorectal cancer awareness, prevention, and treatment assistance. As the leading nonprofit dedicated to colorectal cancer, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is making health equity a priority in its mission to end the disease. The Alliance’s ongoing equity and access efforts in underserved communities have likely contributed to the decreased incidence rate gap between Black Americans and non-Hispanic Whites from 25% to 15% in recent years. However, the mortality rate remains higher, signaling there is a continued need to invest and focus efforts on minority populations.”

Colorectal cancer represents the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined.

The racial disparity in incidence of colorectal cancer has widened to 41 percent for people from the AI/AN community.

Members of the AI/AN community have the highest rates of incidence and deaths from colorectal cancer.

Black Americans have a 35 percent more likelihood of death from colorectal cancer.

And 15 percent of Black Americans are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-Hispanic Whites.”

To address the issue, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance created a Health Equity Fund and an advisory committee to forge partnerships.

Because of the partnerships, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance can: “offer free or low-cost screening options to more Americans in need, expand financial assistance for patients during treatment, enable innovative research to identify reasons for and solutions to disparities, and connect those most in need with high-quality and potentially lifesaving screening and treatment options.”

Angele Russell, senior director of partnerships & health equity at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said, “The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is committed to breaking down barriers to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The Alliance’s Health Equity Fund and Health Equity Advisory Committee were established to address disparities in healthcare and provide free lifesaving screening and care resources to communities most affected by this deadly disease.”

As April approaches, the committee advises minorities to learn their family health history, while also learning about the risk factors, symptoms and the screening options at their disposal.

Unfortunately, being from the Black American, American Indian/Native Alaskan or Hispanic American communities is a risk factor.

Other risk factors include a family history of colorectal cancer, certain inherited genetic syndromes like Lynch syndrome, chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease and type 2 diabetes.

People should also look for certain symptoms like a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding, abdominal discomfort, fatigue and/or weakness and an unexplained loss in weight.

The 2020 death of “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman from colorectal cancer at age 43 hit home for many Black men and brought the disparities into the spotlight possibly more than it had been.

But why are there some many barriers between Black Americans and high-quality screening?

In 2021, Bill Piersol of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center wrote, “There can be many [reasons]. Sometimes doctors and other healthcare providers don’t take the opportunity to urge people to get colorectal screening when they are seen for another reason, like a sore throat or more serious ailment. That encouragement from nurses and doctors is really important—often times for women when it comes from their gynecologists.

“Some people believe they don’t need screening because they don’t have symptoms, like rectal bleeding. But often there are no symptoms until the cancer is advanced, when it’s harder to treat. When colon cancer is found early, it has a high cure rate…

“There can also be concerns related to expense, particularly for people who don’t have health insurance. Colorectal screening is very const-effective, but the best kind of screening—the colonoscopy—is the most expensive test. That can intimidate people. But people should know the cost is usually covered by insurance, including Medicare or Medicaid.”

Black men and women should know that the recommended age to get their first colonoscopy has been lowered from 50 to 45.

Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should start getting colonoscopies even sooner according to many doctors.

Piersol added, “For the last several years, there has been a disturbing rise in the number of younger adults who develop colorectal cancer—people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. The new, younger screening age is intended to help.

“Most of this rise has been among younger White adults, particularly those with rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer rates among younger Black adults, by contrast, have been pretty flat.

“But Black people of all ages—including younger adults—are more likely to get colorectal cancer and die of it than other groups. So even though the numbers aren’t rising for younger Black adults, they are already suffering more from colon cancer than any other group.”

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