SSM Health Medical Minute – “Almost All Colon Cancer Deaths Can Be Prevented”


ST. LOUIS – A new study recently published in the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute“New research revealed why black Americans may be more prone to colon cancer than white people.

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

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States when men and women are combined. However, through regular checkups, colon cancer can be found if it’s small, hasn’t spread, and may be easier to treat. Some types of screening can also help find and remove precancerous growths called polyps before they can turn into cancer. The American Cancer Society and the gastroenterology and oncology community would like the current recommendations to begin screening at age 50 to be reduced to 45.

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

Tierney says we currently know in the United States that black Americans “are diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age and have higher mortality or death rates than the rest of the population.” He says early screening means you won’t have any symptoms. The goal is to screen before symptoms appear.

Overall, colon cancer rates in the United States have decreased in recent years, but the decrease has not been as great in black Americans as it is in people of European descent. And while the overall rates have decreased, the rate of younger people has increased.

A colonoscopy is a visual exam of your lower gastrointestinal tract, including the colon, from the rectum to the appendix. This procedure is performed using a flexible fiber optic endoscope to diagnose diseases of the colon. Using special instruments, your doctor can take biopsies, remove foreign bodies or polyps, and examine them for signs of bleeding and / or inflammation.

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

If you have bowel problems such as blood in your stool or a significant change in your bowel movements or frequency, you should see a doctor right away. If you have a family history of risk factors for colon cancer such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer, your doctor may order a colonoscopy long before you are 50 years old.

To learn more about colonoscopies or to make an appointment, Click here.

The SSM Health Medical Minute will air Wednesdays on News 11 at 7 p.m. and FOX 2 News at 9 p.m.

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