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What’s Goin’ On With Your Health? Colorectal Cancer Doesn’t Have to be a Death Sentence – Screening Can Save Your Life




Dr. Vélez de Brown Headshot (1)

Submitted by Dr. Vélez de Brown, MD, MPH,
on behalf of the African American Health Coalition – 

Special Announcement: March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

While heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., here, in Monroe County, the leading cause of death is cancer. Unfortunately, African Americans have the highest mortality rates of any racial/ethnic group in the nation for most cancers. The combined cancer death rate for African Americans is 24 percent higher for men and 14 percent higher for women, than their white counterparts (American Cancer Society, 2016).

Colorectal cancer’s (CRC) impact on African Americans is even greater.

  • Nationally, death rates are 52 percent higher among African American men and 41 percent higher among African American women than whites.
  • Locally, thirteen percent of deaths due to CRC among African Americans occur before age 50, compared to 6 percent of deaths among whites.

What makes this more tragic, and what is particularly troubling to Common Ground Health’s African American Health Coalition (AAHC), is that CRC is the second-leading cause of cancer death. Most of these deaths can be prevented with screening, however – the survival rate for CRC is 90 percent if detected early.

Colorectal cancer does not have to be a death sentence.

CRC almost always starts with a polyp – a small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum – but doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it is more advanced. This means the cancer is bigger and/or it has spread from where it started. If left untreated, CRC is almost always fatal.

Thankfully, there are screening tests to find this type of cancer at an early, more treatable stage. The two most common types of screening tests are described below. Your doctor can help you decide which is best for you. The best test, though, is the one that gets done.

Colonoscopy Stool Blood Test
How It works A thin tube with a light is put into the bowel from below to check for polyps or signs of cancer.

Done under sedation (meaning you will be asleep)

A take-home kit used to get a very small sample of stool (poop). The sample is then mailed to a lab to test for blood.
Differences between the tests The most accurate test for prevention.

Done every 5-10 years based on results of the first test.

Polyps can be removed during the test to prevent cancer.

Requires a full bowel clean-out, a day off from work, and a ride home.

A very small risk of serious side effects.

Less accurate than colonoscopy.

Done every year.

The test can miss polyps and some cancers.

Done at home with no bowel clean-out and no time off from work.

If the test is abnormal, a colonoscopy is still needed.

Screening for CRC is recommended for adults beginning at age 50. However, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends African Americans start screening at age 45.

Yet, many African Americans refuse to get these life-saving screenings. That is why the AAHC is urging men and women to get screened for CRC.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, and we are shining a light on this important topic to save lives. If you are age 45 or older, the AAHC urges you to talk to your doctor to decide which screening is best for you. If you do not have a doctor, have trouble paying for cancer screening services, or have no insurance, please call the Cancer Services Program of Monroe County at 585.224.3070. You may be able to get help paying for these life-saving screenings.

Dr. Vélez de Brown is Monroe County’s deputy commissioner of public health. Dr. Vélez de Brown graduated from Swarthmore College before getting her medical degree at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Trained in family medicine, she is board certified in preventive medicine and public health.

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