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Digestive Health and Wellness

4 Things to Know About Colorectal Cancer

BLKLHTH has partnered with Cottonelle on the #GoodDownThere campaign to bring awareness to the disparity in CRC outcomes for Black people.

Black people have higher rates of colorectal cancer and are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease than White people. There are a few things to know about colorectal cancer that could help reduce the disparity. 

1. What is colorectal cancer?

Let’s start with the basics. Colorectal cancer is cancer that is found in the colon or rectum. Polyps, or small cell growths, can form on the inside of the colon or rectum, and these small growths can sometimes turn cancerous. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include change in bowel habits, persistent abdominal discomfort, rectal bleeding, feeling weak or fatigued, or unexplained weight loss.

2. What are the risk factors?

A risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting colorectal cancer. There are some common risk factors for colorectal cancer:

  • The primary risk factor is age; our risk of colorectal cancer goes up with age.
  • If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, your risk of colorectal cancer is increased.
  • If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, your risk of colorectal cancer is higher. It is important to talk to your extended family about their health histories.
  • If you’ve had colorectal cancer, even though it was completely removed, you are more likely to develop new cancers in other parts of the colon and rectum.
  • Lifestyle factors have been linked to colorectal cancer such as diet and physical activity level.

3. Why are Black people more at risk?

Black people are at risk for serious colorectal cancer cases because of differences in exposure to the social determinants of health. Historical and present-day racism impacts the access Black people have to health-protecting resources like healthy foods, safe places for physical activity, and access to health insurance and equitable healthcare, ultimately impacting prevention, detection, and treatment of colorectal cancer. Interventions to improve colorectal cancer, and all health outcomes, must account for the social determinants of health.

4. Prevention: screening and early detection

The good news is that if caught and treated early, colorectal cancer has a 90 percent survival rate! Screening, whether invasive (i.e., colonoscopy) or noninvasive (i.e., FIT) is a powerful tool for detecting and preventing death from colorectal cancer. Evidence suggests that Black people should begin screening for colorectal cancer at the following ages:

  • Age 45 when there is no family history of colorectal cancer.
  • Age 40 if there is a history of family member who was diagnosed at or older than 50.
  • 10 years younger than diagnosis of a family member if the family member was diagnosed at less than 50 years old.

Disparities in colorectal cancer outcomes can be reduced in our lifetime. It is important that we build interventions and programs that provide essential screening services to communities in need and take into account the social drivers of health that are barriers to optimal well-being.

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