SSM Health Medical Minute – ‘Almost all deaths from colon cancer can be prevented’

Medical Minute

ST. LOUIS – A new study published recently in the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” revealed new research on why Black Americans might be more vulnerable to colon cancer than white people. 

The research examined age-related “epigenetic” changes in colon tissue. These affect how genes work. In both Black and white people, one side of the colon ages biologically faster than the other.  But the side that ages faster is different, depending on race. Black Americans are disproportionately affected by colorectal cancer, being 20% more likely to develop colorectal cancer, and 40% more likely to die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States when men and women are combined. However, regular screening can find colorectal cancer when it is small, hasn’t spread, and might be easier to treat. Some types of screening can also help find and remove pre-cancerous growths called polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. The American Cancer Society and the gastroenterology and oncology community would like to see the current recommendations to begin screening at the age of 50, lowered to age 45.

“Almost all deaths can be prevented from screening through colonoscopies,” Dr. Lawrence Tierney, a gastroenterologist at SSM Health St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles, said

Tierney says that at this time across the United States, we know that Black Americans, “are being diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age, and their mortality or death is higher than the rest of the population.” He says early screening means you have no symptoms.  The goal is to be screened before you have symptoms. 

Overall, colorectal cancer rates in the United States have dropped in recent years, but the decrease hasn’t been as large in Black Americans as in people of European descent. And even as overall rates have declined, the rate among younger people has gone up.

A colonoscopy is a visual examination of your lower GI tract, involving the large intestine, from the rectum to the cecum. This procedure is done using a flexible fiberoptic scope in order to diagnose disorders involving the large intestine. By using special instruments, your doctor may obtain biopsy specimens, remove foreign bodies or polyps and check for signs of bleeding and/or inflammation.

In patients with no gastrointestinal (GI) problems and no risk factors for colon cancer, the American Cancer Society recommends a first screening colonoscopy at age 50.

If you have bowel symptoms such as blood in your stool or a significant change in your bowel movements or their frequency, you should see a doctor right away. If you have any risk factors for colon cancer such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or a family history of colon cancer, your doctor may want to order the colonoscopy long before you turn 50.

To learn more about colonoscopies or to book an appointment, click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute airs Wednesdays on News 11 at 7pm and FOX 2 News at 9pm.

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Medical Minute


Healthcare information, educational topics, and cutting-edge health news happening locally. Sponsored by SSM Health

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