African Americans have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States, and more than 18,000 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed among African Americans in 2015. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both African American men and women. The American Cancer Society’s 80 by 2018 campaign aims at encouraging all men and women age 50 and older to be screened for colon cancer by 2018. Individuals can take control of their health with colorectal cancer screening, which includes several options.
Screening tests offer the most powerful opportunity to prevent colorectal cancer or detect the disease early. Screening needs to be done even if no symptoms exist. Although people cannot change their genetic makeup or family health history, most people can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer by following the American Cancer Society’s testing guidelines, eating a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant-based foods; staying at a healthy weight; avoiding tobacco, limiting alcohol intake; and increasing their level of physical activity.
PREVENTION: Even though the exact cause of most colorectal cancers isn’t known, prevention and early detection are possible because most colon cancers develop from polyps. Early detections tests for colorectal cancer can help find polyps, which can easily be removed, and lower a person’s cancer risk. Risk may be reduced by regular physical activity, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting intake of high saturated-fat foods, especially red meat and processed meats; not smoking; limiting alcohol intake; and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods.
DETECTION: Colorectal cancers are most successfully treated when detected early. Early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms. Warning signs typically occur with more advanced disease and can include rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, or cramping pain in the lower abdomen. Beginning at age 50, people of average risk with no symptoms should follow one of these testing options:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, or
- Double contrast barium enema every 5 years, or
- CT colonography every 5 years, or
- Yearly guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), or
- Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT), or
- Stool DNA test (sDNA) every 3 years.
TREATMENT: Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer, usually for cancer that has not spread. Chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus radiation is given before or after surgery for patients whose cancer has spread beyond the colon. Regular follow-up exams and blood tests will be recommended.
RISK FACTORS: Men and women are similarly affected. More than 90% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in people age 50 and older. Personal history of colorectal polyps, previously treated colorectal cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease can increase risk, as well as obesity, physical inactivity, high-fat diets, smoking, and alcohol use.
For more information, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345, or visit cancer.org.