Southerners May Need a Colonoscopy Sooner

By Temma Ehrenfeld @Temmaehrenfeld
August 16, 2021

More men are dying in their 40s of colon cancer in the South than elsewhere. The earlier you are screened and catch any cancer, the better.

“Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who died from colon cancer last year at only 43, grew up in Anderson, S.C.

Anderson County is one of 232 counties in the United States with higher rates of death from colorectal cancer (the term generally includes both colon and rectal cancer) for men age 49 and under, according to one study. Nearly all of these hot spots are in the South.

Across the United States, black men are 24 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer and 47 percent more likely to die from it than white men. Black women are also more at risk than white women but not by as much. Smoking, obesity, and a family history of this kind of cancer increase your risk as well.


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Your family history is important

If you have a parent, sibling, or child who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your risk is two to four times higher than the risk for someone without that history, the American Cancer Society reports.

Your doctor may recommend that you have a colonscopy starting at age 40, or 10 years before the age that if an immediate family member was diagnosed with cancer. You might need more frequent screening and genetic counselling.

More cancers under 50

Colorectal cancer has become less common among people 50 and older, but rates have more than doubled among American adults under 50 since the 1990s.

Start screening at 45, if not earlier

The earlier you screen and catch any cancer, the better. Colorectal cancer, begins with a small, noncancerous clump of cells called a polyp on the inside of the colon. These can be caught in a colonoscopy and removed. (Not all polyps turn into cancer, however).

The new under-50 risk led the United States Preventive Services Task Force to recommend colonoscopies beginning at age 45 rather than 50, the previous advice. Its recommendation means that, under the Affordable Care Act, all insurers must cover the procedure with no out-of-pocket costs. The American College of Gastroenterology has recommended that black people start at 45 since 2005.

In a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist introduces a tube with a camera into your rectum to look for signs of cancer. If you can’t stand the idea of doing that, talk to your doctor about Cologuard, an at-home test (you mail a fecal sample to a lab). You should use Cologuard only if you don’t have any extra risk factors, such as inflammatory bowel disease or a personal or family history of colorectal cancer.

Dangerous signs of colorectal cancer include abdominal pain, blood in the toilet or stool, and a change in your stool. If you see those, talk to your doctor.

Survival rates are high if cancer is caught early

These cancers aren’t hard to beat if they are discovered in the early stages. The five-year survival rate for stage 1 or 2 colorectal cancer is about 90 percent. At stage 3, 70 percent of patients survive. At stage 4, only 14 percent do.


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August 16, 2021

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN