Colorectal Cancer Threatens African American Health

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Don’t let embarrassment lead you to an early death! Colorectal cancer is usually detected through the presence of polyps in the colon or rectum. Many African–Americans, especially our Black men, view testing for this type of cancer as an embarrassing, unsettling or even fearful experience. But since colorectal cancer is typically asymptomatic, that is, there are often no symptoms until the disease has progressed to dangerous levels, regular testing should be a part of every adult’s annual health screening.


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Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer–related deaths in the U.S. for both men and women. It surpasses breast and prostate cancers in mortality and is second only to lung cancer in numbers of deaths.

African–Americans are disproportionately affected because of our failure to get early screenings. Early detection is absolutely essential since 90% of these cancers and related deaths are preventable!

Medical experts agree that a high–fiber, low–fat, low–carbohydrate diet rich in fruits and a wide variety of leafy green vegetables can positively impact incidences of colorectal cancer, like most cancers. If your diet doesn’t include plentiful amounts of these foods, you’re at risk.

You are also at risk if you have a family history of the disease or if you are over 50, as cancer risks increase with age.

If you are at high risk for colon or rectal cancer, your health professional may use a variety of tests to determine if cancer is present. The following procedures are commonly used: colonoscopy, barium enema with air contrast, ultrasound, CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging or MRI, angiography, blood tests, chest x–ray and colon cancer tumor markers. Each of these tests can uncover cancer in the colon, rectum or other areas of the body.

Treatment options may include surgical removal of the cancerous polyps followed by a regimen of oral or intravenous chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is a second option and immunotherapy that uses a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer in the body, is a third.

All treatment options have side effects ranging from headaches, muscle aches and nausea with chemotherapy, to fatigue, skin irritation and loss of appetite with radiation and flu–like symptoms, chills, fever and diarrhea with immunotherapy.

Colorectal cancer is a quiet killer, but when warning signs do occur look for the following symptoms: Blood in the stool may be bright red or dark in color making it hard to identify by sight; abdominal discomfort like pain, bloating, cramping or a sense of fullness; change in bowel habits; constipation or diarrhea; narrow stools; nausea and vomiting or unexplained weight loss.

If you have any of these symptoms you may or may not have colorectal cancer, but all are cause for concern and you should see a doctor.

Colorectal cancer is preventable and curable. If you’ve been putting off a screening because of fear or embarrassment, consider that no test is as frightening as undiagnosed cancer. Don’t sit on your future, stand up and get tested. Stand up for your own good health!

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