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Gastroenterology Blog

How Race Impacts a Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

Posted by Gastroenterology Associates on Mon, Jun 03, 2013 @ 11:50 AM

race and colorectal diagnosis

Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cause of cancer-related death in America. It can occur in people of any race; however, it is more prevalent among individuals of some races than others. It is not yet clear whether this is due to genetic or socioeconomic factors, or some combination of the two. 


Incidence by Race

Recent studies show that 55 out of every 100,000 African-Americans get colon cancer in a given year. This is in contrast to a rate of 45 for whites, 39 for Hispanics, and 34 for Asians. Among all of these groups, men were more likely to develop colon cancer than women; however, the disease is relatively common among both sexes.

In addition, the morbidity and mortality rate among blacks is much higher than that of other races; this means that African-Americans diagnosed with colon cancer are more likely to die from it.

The good news is that both the incidence and morbidity of colorectal cancer have been decreasing over the last 10-15 years. This is due in large part to early screening becoming more widespread. During a routine colonoscopy, physicians are able to remove polyps which could later become cancerous; they can also detect cancer early on, when the disease is most easily treated.

Socioeconomic Factors

The reasons behind the higher incidence of and mortality from colorectal cancer among African-Americans is not yet clear, nor is it clear why whites have a higher rate of colorectal cancer than Asians or Hispanics. However, there are a number of socio-economic factors which may impact the risk factors and rate of early detection in African-Americans as compared to whites. These include:

  • Obesity: African-Americans are considerably more likely to be obese than other races. Obesity is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: African-Americans have a higher rate of this disease than other races; this disease is strongly related to obesity.
  • Income level: Low income is strongly associated with both obesity and lack of access to health care in America, and African-Americans are much more likely to live in poverty than other races.
  • Access to health insurance: Only 38% of blacks had access to employer-based health care in 2011, compared with 49% of whites. Early screening and treatment is an important factor in the morbidity rate of colorectal cancer.

All of these may be contributing factors to the disparity in colon cancer rates across races. Currently, no conclusive studies have been performed that control for these factors, although some evidence points to socioeconomic factors as the driving force. This means that there is no way to say for certain whether varying rates of colon cancer across races is due to genetic predisposition or socioeconomic factors. It may be a combination of both.

Whatever the underlying cause, it is clear that early screening, including routine colonoscopies, is essential to reduce colon cancer morbidity rates. It is estimated that up to 60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented with routine screening for individuals over the age of 50. For those patients who are diagnosed early, the prognosis is excellent.

If you are 50+ years old or fall into one of the high risk categories and you haven’t yet considered preventative screening for colorectal cancer, you may want to take the next step in protecting your future with preventative screenings, like colonoscopy.  The Gastroenterology Associates are specialized and highly experienced in screening for, detecting, and treating colorectal cancer and the precursors to colorectal cancer (ie polyps).  Contact the Gastroenterology Associates for an appointment today, either through our online appointment request here or by contacting our office here.

Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician.    Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.

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Topics: Cancer, Colonoscopy