Colon Cancer: Why African Americans Keep Dying From A Preventable Disease
…—those aged 50 or older—get the recommended tests, such as a colonoscopy. One study found that a key factor is that doctors neglect to recommend the lifesaving exam, while patients’ embarrassment, anxiety, or lack of health insurance can also be issues.
The Test That Finds and Treats Colon Cancer
While there are several ways to check for colon cancer, the gold standard for early detection is a colonoscopy. It’s the only cancer detection test that also prevents the disease by allowing doctors to find polyps and, during the same test, remove them before they turn into cancer.
To administer the test, a doctor uses a thin, flexible tube (called a colonoscope) with a small video camera attached to one end to examine the six-foot long colon. If suspicious growths are found, they can be removed during the test for biopsy. A similar test called sigmoidoscopy only checks one-third of the colon, so it can miss precancerous growths or cancer in the area not examined.
Many people put off having this lifesaving test because they dread the preparation, which typically involves eating a diet of clear food and taking laxatives for two days to clean out the colon. Yet this relatively minor inconvenience could save many lives; studies show that colonoscopy is 60 to 90 percent effective at preventing a killer disease. The test itself is painless, because colonoscopy patients receive sedatives during the procedure.
Who Is At Risk for Colon Cancer?
African Americans, as well as people with a family history of the disease, are usually advised to start screening at a younger age and have more frequent testing. Other risk factors include diabetes, smoking, obesity, poor diet, and a “couch potato” lifestyle.
There’s also emerging evidence that heavy drinking raises risk in men and may also increase it in women. Gibb, however, didn’t drink and had adopted a vegan diet, highlighting the importance of screening to prevent the disease—or catch it in the early, highly treatable stages, even if you have no other risk factors other than your age.
What Can You Do to Avoid Colon Cancer?
Simple changes in your daily habits are the best protection against this killer disease. A recent study by World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (one of the most comprehensive ever conducted) reported that if we ate more fiber, performed moderate exercise, and stayed lean, about 45 percent of colon cancer cases would be prevented. That’s about 64,000 cases a year.
The researchers also advise a primarily plant-based diet, including fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans. Evidence from 24 recent studies strongly link eating both red and processed meat to higher risk for colon cancer, prompting the AICR to advise limiting these foods to 18 ounces or fewer per week. Processed meats (such as bacon, hot dogs, and sandwich meat) are particularly dangerous, doubling risk, compared to eating red meat alone, according to the AICR researchers.