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African-Americans More Likely to Die of Colorectal Cancer Than Any Other Racial or Ethnic Group

African-Americans More Likely to Die of Colorectal Cancer Than Any Other Racial or Ethnic Group
M. D. Anderson News Release 03/08/00

Despite advances in cancer research and treatment that continue to help many people live beyond a cancer diagnosis, one racial/ethnic group stands out because of its higher mortality rate for colorectal cancer.

"More than individuals of any other racial or ethnic background, African-Americans are more likely to die of this disease," says Dr. Bernard Levin, vice president for cancer prevention at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Dr. Levin testified before the Congressional Black Caucus and Older Americans Caucus in Washington, D.C., Feb. 17, on the eve of the first ever National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.

"Overall, we've seen a decline in the colorectal cancer mortality rate in recent years, but this has not extended to African-Americans," he says. African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in its more advanced stages, resulting in poorer treatment outcomes.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is voicing her support of the new month dedicated to colorectal cancer awareness, as well as the need to educate the African-American community about screening and early detection.

"It is a national tragedy that African-Americans are more likely to die of colorectal cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States," Lee says. "This is particularly devastating because this type of cancer not only is preventable, it is 90 percent curable if detected early."

Additionally, incidence rates for African-Americans are increasing. In recent years, colorectal cancer incidence has increased 46 percent among African-American men and 10 percent among African-American women.

"We need to put aside our embarrassment, and begin talking about colorectal cancer," Lee says. "Maintaining a dialogue at national, regional and local levels will significantly reduce the number deaths due to this disease and improve the health of our community."

A bill currently before the House of Representatives requires health insurers to provide coverage for colorectal cancer screening examinations. The bill, titled "Eliminate Colorectal Cancer Act of 1999," specifies that insurers cover screening for everyone age 50 and older, and also for individuals younger than 50 years old who are at high risk of developing the disease.

"Colorectal cancer is an orphan disease, simply because no one wants to talk about it," Lee says. "Talk to your doctor, your family and your friends about colorectal cancer. This is a conversation that can save your life." Colorectal cancer is the nation's second leading cancer killer, with an estimated 56,500 deaths in the United States expected this year, according to the American Cancer Society. In Texas, an estimated 3,600 deaths are expected in 2000. Regular screening and early detection examinations allow the disease to be discovered at its earliest, most treatable, stages.

Screening should begin at age 50, or earlier for individuals with a family history of the disease, Dr. Levin says. Recommendations for colorectal cancer screening include the following:

  • Annual fecal occult blood test, available at most pharmacies.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.
  • Double contrast barium enema every five to 10 years or colonoscopy every 10 years may be substituted in place of the other tests.



© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center