African American men 20% more likely to develop colon cancer than others

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Across the country, Hollywood and fans are mourning the death of Chadwick Boseman. The “Black Panther” star died Friday when he lost his fight against Stage 4 colon cancer. 

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the United States. About 1 in 25 women will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. For men, that number is 1 in 23

But for African American men, the incidence rate is anywhere between 20 to 25% higher compared to white men. And the number of cancer-related deaths is almost 10% higher. A possible reason, Dr. Doug Rex, director of endoscopy at IU Health told News 8, could be a resistance to early screening. 

“The percentage of African Americans that have undergone screenings–which means to go and get checked when you have no symptoms–is lower than it is for whites. As a result, there is a tendency to present [signs and symptoms] at a later stage and that of course is associated with poorer survival–a worse prognosis.”

Rex says this may have to do with the subject matter, which can be uncomfortable to talk about. And there’s also this sense of denial and the preparation for a colonoscopy, as he puts it, is not fun.

But this population needs to recognize that unless their colon has been surgically removed, they are at risk.

Colon cancer is not considered a rapidly growing cancer and there is a high chance of survival rate if detected early.

“In people who have symptoms…if they undergo a colonoscopy promptly…many people will be treated by surgery,” said Rex. “Sometimes, chemotherapy. For the rectum, radiation is required, but the cure rate is substantial even when cancer has developed.”

In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the age of recommended screening from 50 to 45 years old for everyone in the United States. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.


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