By Briana Vannozzi
“The African-American patients are diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age and at an advanced stage,” said Dr. Gunwant K. Guron, hematologist/oncologist at Saint Michael’s Medical Center.
African-Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates for colorectal cancer out of any racial group in the U.S.
“The five-year survival rate is close to 70 to 75 percent in colon cancer but in African-American patients, it is at least 10 percent lower than the general population,” Dr. Guron said.
Dr. Guron of Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, says the theories vary from genetics to lifestyle. The leading proven factor?
“They do not go for screening colonoscopies and the reasons can be many, including lower socioeconomic status, uninsured or under-insured,” she said.
“We do know that colorectal cancer comes from colon polyps and typically we are able to find these polyps during a colonoscopy screening exam and hopefully remove them,” said Dr. Arkady Broder, gastroenterologist at Saint Peter’s University Hospital.
Unless a patient puts off that preventative screening, which can diagnose the polyp in a pre-malignant state. National guidelines calls for a colonoscopy at at age 50, but recommends it five years earlier, age 45, for African-Americans.
“I’ve had three colonoscopies now and my first one after my father passed showed I had 13 polyps,” said Congressman Donald Payne Jr.
Payne’s father, whom he succeeded in office, died from the disease. Now he’s part of a national campaign called “Now is the Time” to bring awareness and urge screenings in urban communities through religious outreach.
“What we want to make sure is that people get the message from a trusted source, particularly and primarily in African-American churches getting this message from the pulpit is going to go a long way in terms of increasing screenings,” said Colon Cancer Alliance CEO Eric Hargis.
“I am willing to go wherever and speak to whomever to make sure that families do not have to go through this terrible, terrible ordeal,” Payne said.
Emerging research also suggests a gene mutations unique to African-Americans that puts them at a higher risk.
“African-American men and women tend to form more polyps on the right portion of the colon which can be more difficult to get to with a colonoscope. They also tend to, due to genetics, form these polyps earlier on in life,” Dr. Broder said.
“There are at least two of these mutations that are unique to African-Americans that are present only in them and are considered to be the driver mutations for colon cancer. So yes, but let me make it very clear, this is all in research. It’s not a part of any guideline,” Dr. Guron said.
There has been major progress in the last decade for treating the cancer, but as the doctors and activists put it, the best treatment is prevention.