As fans tuned into the season 11 premiere of the popular reality TV staple Real Housewives of Atlanta they were likely expecting to see the usual brand of drama, shade and laughs. However, the bulk of the episode was pretty serious in tone due to the health issue that series star NeNe Leakes is dealing with, as her husband Gregg tackles his Stage 3 colon cancer diagnosis.
The disturbing reality is that Black men are at very high risk to be diagnosed with colon cancer and the numbers are rapidly increasing. Black men are not only the leading ethnic group of men who are diagnosed with colon cancer, they also lead the death toll from the disease. With an overall shorter life expectancy, inadequate health care coverage and a general hesitancy to go to the doctor for proper screenings, colon cancer is the silent killer that’s taking the lives of our men more than ever before.
Although most times colon cancer has no signs, there are some things to look out for and head to the doctor if you notice them. Bloody stools, narrower than normal stools, unexplained abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, anemia, and unexplained/rapid weight loss are some of the more common warning signs.
According to the American Cancer Society, the most recent 2016 statistics for black men and colon cancer are disheartening to say the least. About 189,910 new cancer cases were diagnosed among blacks in 2016. Of those cases, the most commonly diagnosed cancers among black men are prostate (31% of all cancers), lung (15%), and colon and rectum (9%). Despite these grim facts, colon cancer is highly preventable and coupled with proper prevention practices, including early detection, can be stopped in its tracks before it even begins.
In a recent profile on black men and colon cancer, the website BlackDoctor.org spoke with a variety of healthcare professionals who shared their tips on what black men can do to lower their risk:
Dr. Strick Woods, gastroenterologist based in Bridgeport, CT, says that screening is the first step towards Black men lowering their risk. The American College of Gastroenterologists recommends Black men be screened starting at age 45 – five years earlier than whites. The reason? Colon cancer is often diagnosed in African Americans at a younger age. Dr. Woods says the current compliance rate for colonoscopies is at a mere 38 percent. African American have a notably low screening rate which puts us at adverse risk for developing colon cancer. Dr. Woods suggests a new way for Black men to get screened from the privacy of their home.
One of the modern ways to properly screen for colon cancer for men who are hesitant about actually going to the doctor is using Cologuard. Cologuard is an at-home stool test that detects certain genetic markers associated with colon cancer.
As reported, Cologuard is aimed at changing the low compliance rate by screening more people, especially black men. Patients are able to take Cologuard in the comfort of their own home, with no prep, no invasive procedure, no sedation and no time off of work. All you have to do is provide a stool sample (via a cup that clips to your toilet) and mail it to the lab for analysis, which UPS will pick up for you. Cologuard is also the first test of its kind that looks for both blood and DNA in a person’s stool, flagging cancerous and pre-cancerous cells (if pre-cancerous cells are found and removed, cancer is prevented from ever forming.) A recent study found that Cologuard identified 92 percent of colon cancers with 87 percent specificity.
In the event that a man is diagnosed with colon cancer, the most regarded form of treatment is chemotherapy. However, with the rising interest and positive results of alternative medicine, many are opting for more natural forms of cancer treatment to combat the deadly disease. You have to decide the best choice for you and your family, don’t just accept the first option.
As more African Americans get more knowledgeable and more serious about their health, the statistics of life-threatening diseases like colon cancer can hopefully be entirely prevented or lower significantly. So, if you have any men in your life who are at the age where they should be tested regularly, remind them, and if they are not willing to go to the doctor let them know about at-home screening.