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Preventing Colon Cancer in African Americans with Earlier Screening

UMN researchers survey fair goers at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair

In observance of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, HealthTalk is featuring a University of Minnesota researcher working to reduce the harm caused by colon cancer in the African American community.

Colon cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women in the United States, but African Americans bear the greatest burden. This is why one University of Minnesota researcher is calling for lowering the age at which African Americans have a routine colonoscopy.

Charles R. Rogers, Ph.D., CHES, is a behavioral scientist and post-doctoral associate with the Program in Health Disparities Research at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Rogers points to the tragic disparities in colon cancer at the national level: African Americans are 45 percent more likely than others to die from colon cancer, and they are diagnosed younger and at more severe stages than other populations. In fact, African American men have the highest death rates and chances of getting it among all racial and ethnic groups for both genders.

Yet colon cancer is one of the most preventable of all types of cancer. When detected early, it is highly treatable.

Rogers tells of former “I Love New York” reality-TV celebrity Ahmad “Real” Givens who shared his battle with colon cancer very publicly. Two years ago, at age 33, Givens was misdiagnosed three times before doctors correctly identified his illness as stage 4 colon cancer.  Less than two weeks ago, Givens’ brave battle with colon cancer ended. He was 35.

Rogers is sharing his idea for lowering the screening age with policy makers. While his goal is to save lives, he knows early detection will save health care dollars as well. Treating colon cancer in the early stages costs more than $3,000 less than treating advanced cases of the preventable disease.

Rogers surveyed African American men at the Minnesota State Fair last summer and heard more stories of men who were diagnosed with colon cancer before age 50. One young man in his early 20s, after experiencing stomach pains, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. He encouraged Rogers to continue with his work.

“If this young man had waited until age 50 for a routine screening since he did not have a family history of colon cancer, he could have died well before.” Rogers said. “If we could lower the screening age, which was recommended by the American College of Gastroenterology in 2008, it will literally save thousands of lives.”

Rogers notes that breast cancer awareness month has significantly increased awareness every year, through NFL apparel and merchandise, mammogram fundraisers, and walks.

“Colon cancer is a disease that no one has to die from, so I want to ensure it receives just as much attention and education as other forms of cancer,” Rogers said.

Read Rogers’ commentary about lowering the age for colon cancer screening for African Americans in MinnPost.com. His study on the attitudes of young adult African American men toward colon cancer screening was published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

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