A group of Lansing area residents is working to get African Americans in the community to talk with their doctors about colorectal cancer, which can be prevented with the proper screening.
“Don’t Let Cancer Silence You” is the slogan of the Improving Cancer Outcomes of African Americans in Michigan initiative. The Michigan Department of Community Health funds the initiative through Faith Access to Community Economic Development (F.A.C.E.D.) in Flint. Groups of residents in five Michigan communities, called Design Teams, have launched interventions to address the unequal cancer burden among African Americans.
“We can reduce this disparity if we talk about it, increase our cancer awareness and knowledge, dispel the myths, and get screened,” said Sheila Taylor, chair of the Lansing Design Team. “We can improve our outcomes. Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, this is a good time to start.”
The Lansing Design Team has put a special emphasis on colorectal cancer this year because African Americans have the highest death rate from colorectal cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer-related death in Michigan.
The Lansing Design Team is asking African Americans to start talking with their doctors about their family medical histories to see when they should start colorectal cancer screening. Then talk to five friends and family members to make sure they do the same. The Team developed Let’s SCREEN (Seek ColoRectal Exams Everyone Needs) Calling Kits to provide colorectal cancer information and help guide the conversations.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1,870 Michigan men and women will die of colorectal cancer in 2005, and that 4,830 new cases will be diagnosed. The Michigan Cancer Consortium’s colorectal cancer control priority is to increase to 75% the proportion of average risk people in Michigan who report having received appropriate colorectal cancer screening by the year 2010.
Appropriate screening can prevent colorectal cancer by allowing doctors to remove non-cancerous growths, called polyps, from the inner walls of the colon and rectum before they become cancerous. If the polyp has become cancerous, the five-year survival rate is 90% if it is detected at an early stage and the cancer has not spread beyond the colon or rectum.
Anyone can get colorectal cancer because aging is the primary risk factor. However, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps increases the risk and may prompt your doctor to recommend that you be screened before age 50 or have more frequent screenings.
“This is why it is important for families to talk about health history and let everyone know if cancer or other diseases run in the family. This is essential knowledge for each generation to pass on to the next,” Taylor said.
Other risk factors include: inflammatory bowel disease, a diet high in animal fats or low in fiber, not being physically active, obesity, diabetes, smoking and heavy use of alcohol.
It is important to get the appropriate screenings because early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms. Immediate medical attention is warranted if you have blood in or on the stool, a change in bowel habits, stools that are narrower than usual, general stomach discomfort, frequent gas pains, or unexplained weight loss.
The Michigan Cancer Consortium recommends that men and women 50 years of age and older who are not at increased risk for colorectal cancer follow a screening schedule consisting of:
A fecal occult blood test (testing for blood in the stool) every year OR
Flexible sigmoidoscopy (a procedure to examine the lower portion of the colon) every 5 years
A fecal occult blood test every year AND flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years OR
A colonoscopy (a procedure to examine the entire colon) every 10 years
A double contrast barium enema (an X-ray of the colon) every 5 years
Healthwise University at Ingham Regional Medical Center is offering its free annual fecal occult blood test screening and colorectal cancer education program through April. Call 517 367-5159 or 877 224-4325 to register to have the test kit, including instructions and educational material, sent to your home. The tests that are mailed back to the hospital will be reviewed by a gastrointerologist.
For more information about Let’s SCREEN or to join the Lansing Design Team, call 1-866-322-3301 and press 5 when prompted.