UAB: African Americans more at risk of colon cancer, symptoms to look for

There are symptoms to look out for in all age groups.
There are symptoms to look out for in all age groups.(wbrc)
Updated: Aug. 31, 2020 at 10:39 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The death of beloved actor and philanthropist Chadwick Boseman after a battle with colon cancer, at just 43-years-old, has revived the conversation about what age you should begin getting screened.

Dr. Nipun Reddy, Medical Director of the Kirklin Clinic Gastroenterology and Hepatology Clinic and Endoscopy Unit said the American Cancer Society changed the recommendation for the first colon screening from age 50 to 45 several years ago due to an uptick in cases specifically in African Americans.

Both African American men and women are at increased risk of developing colon cancer.

In fact, the demographic is the only group, according to Dr. Reddy, that has seen an increase in cases in the last decade, while other ethnicities are declining.

Dr. Reddy explained one of the reasons for Black people being more at risk is a lack of access to care or not getting screened due to a lack of knowledge about risks.

He also said lifestyle plays a role.

“A sedentary lifestyle, a diet that’s high in processed meats- red meats, alcohol, smoking,” said Dr. Reddy.

There is also growing concern about the type of lesions found in Black people.

“African Americans are getting right-sided lesions in their colon and they tend to have a more poor prognosis compared to other parts of the colon,” Reddy explained.

Those types of lesions, he says, can lead to a higher risk of colon cancer.

There are symptoms to look out for in all age groups.

“Rectal bleeding... significant unintended weight loss... and any sudden change in bowel habits, meaning you’re becoming more constipated or having more diarrhea,” Reddy advised.

Dr. Reddy said if you have a family history of colon cancer and you’re not at the recommended age for screenings, you can always talk to your doctor about what steps to take.

As for what a colonoscopy is like, Dr. Reddy said getting patients over the fear of the procedure is a major obstacle.

The patient is put under anesthesia and the procedure usually takes about 30 to 60 minutes.

“I’ve had patients say they don’t remember the procedure happening. They always tell me their biggest fear is the procedure but it almost always goes smoothly,” Reddy said.

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