Sung Poblete, Ph.D., RN
CEO, Stand Up To Cancer
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp view the longstanding disparities in our healthcare system, as we’ve witnessed people of color being impacted by the virus at much greater rates. This heartbreaking occurrence should serve as a wake-up call for the medical community to correct inequities that exist throughout healthcare, including in cancer screening and treatment.
Cancer disparities are especially glaring in the area of colorectal cancer, where the disease is taking a disproportionate toll on Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities.
The numbers are startling. Black people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any major racial or ethnic group in the United States. They are diagnosed at an earlier age, and at a later stage in their cancer, leading to higher mortality and a shorter overall survival rate.
Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it than most other groups. Latino people are often diagnosed at later stages than white people and are less likely to get screened than white and Black individuals. And American Indians have higher incidence and higher mortality rates than white people.
The good news is that colorectal cancer can be prevented with regular screening and is 90 percent treatable and survivable when found early. Although it’s the second leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States, it could — and should — be causing fewer deaths.
Regular screening is a critical step in reaching this goal, but only 1 in 3 Americans over the age of 50 are getting the recommended testing, and an alarming number of people under 50 are being diagnosed — often at later, less treatable stages. We need to stop this trajectory in its tracks.
We believe we can achieve greater awareness and better health outcomes with concerted action. Since Stand Up To Cancer launched 13 years ago, we have funded significant colorectal cancer research and awareness efforts. We have made reducing colorectal cancer, particularly among medically underserved communities, a first-tier issue as a part of our Health Equity Initiative, and we are now collaborating with Exact Sciences to increase screening in the communities that are hardest hit by this disease.
Our main goal is informing people about the importance of screening and screening choices, such as colonoscopy, as well as at-home, stool-based tests. Getting screened is what matters, especially in the wake of the pandemic, which has caused a significant drop in screening rates. We absolutely must make colorectal cancer awareness and screening a top priority in all communities, with a focus on reducing disparities and saving lives now.