Colon cancer incidence rates have declined steadily over the last decade. However, when you look at the numbers by race, we see that the colon cancer rate for African Americans is higher than the average. Given this increased risk, many people are asking: should African Americans start screening for colon cancer before age 50?
The standard recommendation for “average-risk” individuals is to begin colon cancer screening at age 50. An average-risk individual is someone who:
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has collected information on colorectal cancer across all races and has determined the African American population to be at higher risk compared to other races. These statistics from the CDC study have remained relatively steady:
The CDC data separated the incidence among all races (whites, African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders). Only the rates for African Americans were above the average. Why is there a difference? Some researchers have theorized there may be a genetic component, but the data so far has not been convincing. Unfortunately, there is no genetic test to determine propensity for colon cancer. There may be differences in access to medical care that might also affect the likelihood of screening or early detection.
Given this data, African Americans stand to benefit from a conversation with their doctor about the best age to begin colon cancer screening. Two of the three gastro-intestinal professional societies (the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Society of Gastroenterology, and the American College of Gastroenterology) recommend that normal risk African Americans begin screening at age 45. Richmond Gastroenterology Associates agrees with this recommendation that African Americans begin screening at age 45.
No one looks forward to a colonoscopy, but it’s the gold standard among screening methods. A colonoscopy allows a gastroenterologist to thoroughly examine the entire colon. It is the onlyscreening test that can prevent colon cancer from developing. Colon cancer arises from pre-cancerous growths or polyps in the colon. Identifying and removing polyps early eliminates the chance that colon cancer will develop from those polyps.
There are other tests available, such as the Cologuard test, stool tests for blood abnormality, and more. None of these tests approach the reliability of a colonoscopy or provide the preventive measure of polyp removal. Also, a colonoscopy will still be required if abnormalities arise from these other tests.
Steps to lower your colon cancer risk
In addition to screening for colon cancer, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of colon cancer:
Most adults should begin screening for colon cancer at age 50. We recommend that African Americans begin screening sooner at age 45 since they are at higher risk for colon cancer and also have the lowest survival rates once diagnosed.
Is it time for you to be screened for colon cancer? Contact Richmond Gastroenterology Associates to schedule a colonoscopy or to learn more about this important test