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Why Colonoscopies are Important for the Black Community

Written By: Women and Infants on September 7, 2021


Colorectal cancer disproportionately affects the Black community. Colorectal cancer rates among African-Americans are the highest of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S., making African-Americans approximately 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it than any other group. That’s why it’s important you talk to your doctor about your personal risk factors for colorectal cancer, and when you should schedule your first or follow-up colonoscopy.

 

The most accurate screening test for cancer and/or abnormalities of the colon and rectum, both parts of the large intestine, is a colonoscopy. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer-related death for both men and women, which is why getting a colorectal screening is so important.

 

Early detection is key to saving lives, experts say, because colorectal cancer has a 90% survival rate if caught early.

Possible symptoms of colorectal cancer:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Feeling you need to have a bowel movement, that’s not relieved by having one
  • Visible or non-visible (occult) blood in the stool
  • Cramping or pain in the abdomen
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Losing weight without trying

 

The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screenings at age 45, whether they do or do not experience symptoms. However, if you have a close relative, such as a parent, sibling, or child, who has had colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend you have your first colonoscopy earlier than the age of 45. Or, if you’re African-American, your physician may also advise you to start earlier, as African-Americans are more susceptible to the disease.                                          

Other people at higher risk for colorectal cancer include people with:

  • A family history of colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of colorectal cancer
  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
  • A known or suspected family history of a hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome
  • A personal history of radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer

 

During your colonoscopy, your doctor can see inside the entire length and width of your colon and rectum, by using a flexible, hollow, lighted tube, which has a video camera at the end. This tube (about ½ inch in diameter) is inserted into your rectum, and advanced through your colon, taking pictures along the way. These pictures give the doctor a view of the lining of your colon, so he or she can examine it, in real-time, for any abnormalities (such as polyps, which are growths that could be the beginnings of cancer). If at this time, your doctor sees a polyp along the way, he or she will remove it, and send it to the laboratory for testing, as well as to prevent it from getting bigger and/or turning into cancer over time. The whole process takes approximately half an hour. Before the colonoscopy, however, you will need to prepare for the colonoscopy, which often includes emptying the contents of your colon. This is done through diet and drinking bowel-cleaning liquids. The exact colonoscopy prep instructions will be based on your physician’s preferences.

Post-procedure problems are rare, but may include:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Blood coming from rectum or in first bowel movement
  • Light cramping
  • Nausea
  • Rectal irritation

 

Should you experience any of these after your procedure, call your doctor, especially if you have severe or prolonged abdominal pain, fever, chills, severe or prolonged bleeding, or a rapid heart rate.

RISKS:

Colonoscopies are performed every day and are considered by medical experts to be safe. However, there are some risks, while rare, you should be aware of, including:

  • Perforated intestine
  • Bleeding
  • Post-polypectomy electrocoagulation syndrome
  • Adverse reaction to the anesthetic
  • Infection

 

Remember, prevention is key! The earlier colorectal cancer is found, the more likely it can be successfully treated. The typical symptoms of colorectal cancer could actually be caused by other conditions, but they could also be signs of cancer. You won’t know unless you have a colorectal screening, to determine what is going on with your health. Schedule a colonoscopy to keep you healthy, living your best life.

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