Colorectal Cancer: Preventable, Treatable, Beatable

Colorectal Cancer: Preventable, Treatable, Beatable

On August 28, 2020 the world mourned the loss of a gifted, talented, extraordinary, young Black man, Chadwick Boseman. He died from colon cancer at only 43 years of age. Many were in disbelief. How could someone so young die from colon cancer? 

“Chadwick’s death highlighted two little-known aspects of this disease: that colon cancer afflicts the young too, and that Blacks are disproportionally affected both in terms of getting it and dying from it,” says Aasma Shaukat, MD, a professor in the Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Minnesota.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and for me it hits close to home. Having experienced the disease firsthand I know the importance of early detection, regular doctor appointments and making your health a priority.

I want to bring awareness to a very preventable disease. What many don’t realize is that while the number of people diagnosed with colon cancer has dropped overall, statistics still indicate the rate of diagnosis in younger people has increased.  

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States, and Black men have a 28% higher incidence rate and a 40% higher death rate from colorectal cancer compared to white men.

Saint Agnes Colon Rectal Surgeon, Dr. James Bruce, explains "One of the main problems with diagnosing colorectal cancer is that symptoms tend to be very nonspecific. It can be something obvious like rectal bleeding or a major change in bowel habits, but it can also be mild abdominal pain or cramping that won't go away." 

It is important for Black men to be aware of their risk for colorectal cancer and to take steps to reduce their chances of developing colon cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, getting regular exercise, and undergoing screenings for colorectal cancer starting at age 45 or earlier if there are other risk factors present. It is also important to talk to a healthcare provider about any concerns or symptoms related to colorectal cancer.

I know lots of times men ignore symptoms of discomfort and many like to opt out of regular doctor appointments, screenings, and colonoscopies. All of these can ultimately save your life. The good news is early detection helps increase the chances of survival.  

Black men are more likely to have risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as obesity, physical inactivity, and a diet high in red and processed meats. Health disparities still exist and Black men may also have limited access to healthcare which includes screenings for colorectal cancer, which can lead to later stage diagnosis and lower survival rates.

That's why it's so important to take preventative measures to reduce the chances of developing colon cancer. Here are some steps you can take to help lower your risk:

  1. Get regular screenings: Screening can help detect precancerous growths, called polyps, before they become cancerous. The American Cancer Society recommends screening for colon cancer starting at age 45 for people at average risk. People with a family history of colon cancer or certain medical conditions may need to start screening earlier.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing colon cancer. Aim to maintain a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet.
  3. Eat a healthy diet: A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may lower your risk of colon cancer. Limit your intake of red and processed meats, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated and trans fats.
  4. Don't smoke: Smoking is a known risk factor for many types of cancer, including colon cancer. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to quit.
  5. Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol in excess can increase your risk of colon cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
  6. Stay physically active: Regular physical activity can lower your risk of colon cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week.
  7. Know your family history: People with a family history of colon cancer may be at increased risk themselves. Talk to your doctor about screening and prevention strategies if you have a family history of the disease.

This month, focus on your colon's health and schedule your colonoscopy. These types of preventive measures can save your life. Remember, early detection helps to prevent and treat the disease.

To learn more about colorectal cancer prevention and treatment visit the American Cancer Society and Colorectal Cancer Alliance.