Who is at the highest risk of colorectal cancer?
Who is at the highest risk of colorectal cancer?
Jennifer Jones, the first woman of color who became a member of the Radio City Rockettes, has always been the healthy one in her family.
By the time she turned 50, she was an avid runner and dancer and had been a vegetarian for more than 25 years. She said she felt great when the big day arrived, but she became concerned when she started experiencing numbness, trapped gas and abdominal discomfort a few months later.
Jennifer told herself “these things happen” at this age. She also thought it might be a food allergy and she decided to eliminate gluten from her diet. She wasn’t worried about cancer at all when she visited the doctor for her first colonoscopy, which, at the time, was recommended for people 50 and older.
After undergoing the procedure, he was surprised when he got the results. He had colorectal cancer and his doctor told him he had about five years to live. Jennifer was amazed, she had no family history of colorectal cancer or any other known risk factors for the disease.
“I was embarrassed and embarrassed when I found out I had stage 3 colorectal cancer,” Jennifer said. She hid the diagnosis from her friends and family for a few weeks. “At the time, both of my kids were in college and I started to think I’d never see their lives fully blossom.”
Who is at risk of colon cancer?
Colon or colorectal cancer is called cancer of the large intestine or rectum. It is the third most common cancer in the United States and even 1 out of 26 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
Certain racial and ethnic groups are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. It is believed that a genetic mutation, APC I1307K, found primarily in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, contributes to higher rates of colorectal cancer in this population. A family history of colorectal cancer can also increase your risk of developing the disease.
But research suggests that most cases of colorectal cancer aren’t genetic or hereditary. Black Americans, who have a 20% more likely to be diagnosed of colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from the disease than other groups who develop cancer at an earlier age and are diagnosed at later stages, which reduces survival rates. These differences in diagnoses and survival rates have been associated with racial and socioeconomic health disparities, such as lack of access to quality health care due to financial or geographic conditions and a lack of trust in health care providers.
Jennifer has faced inequalities throughout her experience with cancer. Temporarily jobless and without health insurance, Jennifer accepted a position with a company that delayed her hiring for a month and gave her a lower salary than promised. She said she still took the job because she needed to get medical care and support her family.
Following her diagnosis, Jennifer said she was dissatisfied with the level of care she was receiving from her white male physician and decided to find a new healthcare provider.
“I finally sat down with my family and told them about my illness and that I was going to Memorial Sloan Kettering,” Jennifer said. “My surgeon, my oncologist and an almost exclusively female team treated me as a person and not just a number. That moment was truly when my treatment and my fight against cancer began.
For decades, colorectal cancer has been considered a disease of the elderly. But there are more cases in younger people, regardless of their ethnic background. In 2020, approximately 12% of colorectal cancer cases in the United States were in people under the age of 50.
“This has caused many companies to change their guidelines by lowering the age of colorectal cancer screening from 50, which had been the norm for a long time, to 45,” said Ayanna Lewis, MD, gastroenterologist at the Mount Sinai South Nassau in Merrick ., New York and a member of the Women’s Health Advisory Board of HealthyWomen. “After having colonoscopies for eight years, it still amazes me how many young people under 30 who I examine for other reasons already have polyps.”
Jennifer was scrutinized in 2018, the year the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screenings from 50 to 45 for people not considered to be at high risk. She wished these guidelines had been in place by her 45th birthday so she could have caught the cancer before she did. Because of her diagnosis, she knows her children will be tested when they are 40, the recommended age for people with a family history of colorectal cancer.
Dr. Lewis said the presence of abnormal cells in a colon polyp it can turn into cancer in 7-10 years. Consequently, the detection and removal of a polyp at age 45, compared to age 50, gives patients a better chance of long-term survival.
“It’s important to know that colorectal cancer can be treated,” said Dr. Lewis. “Even if it’s diagnosed later than we think is convenient, there are effective treatments.”
Reduce the risk of colorectal cancer
Besides starting exams at an appropriate age, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and avoiding red meat, cured meats, and sugary foods are some of the helpful recommendations for reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are also associated with higher rates of colorectal cancer, along with reduced blood vitamin D levels.
Dr. Lewis said that as the American diet has changed over the past three to four decades to include more processed foods, the rates of people overweight and living with obesity have increased. More and more Americans also have diabetes and are overweight, and some studies have shown connections in the middle colorectal cancer polyps or colorectal polyps and diabetes, overweight and obesity. African Americans are more likely to be overweight or obese, to be diagnosed with diabetes, and to have vitamin D deficiencieswhich may contribute to higher rates of colorectal cancer.
Healthcare workers also play a big role in reducing cancer diagnoses, said Dr. Lewis. Interactions with people at health fairs, churches, and community organizations can motivate more people to visit medical providers for an exam. Developing relationships with existing patients can make them feel more comfortable discussing their symptoms and more open to the possibility of cancer screening.
“Taking that extra time to explain the process, even non-verbally, is sometimes not only helpful for the patient I’m talking to, but it encourages their friends and family to check them out,” said Dr. Lewis. “They can say ‘I wasn’t afraid. No one treated me like I was an object. No one stared at my butt. The pre-op enema wasn’t as bad as everyone said.”
ready to graduate
Jennifer has been cancer-free since 2019. She expects the streak to continue beyond December 2023, which will mark five years since her diagnosis.
After overcoming cancer, he lives by the mantra “don’t wait to enjoy life, live your dreams and let everyone know”. For her, that includes publishing a children’s book, an autobiography, and even a “Dancing Jenn” doll.
She has also served as an advocate for the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to help raise awareness of the importance of cancer screening.
“There aren’t enough conversations about (colon cancer) in our communities,” Jennifer said. “It’s a difficult topic to talk about, but difficult conversations have to happen. Find out your family history and get tested when you are 45 or earlier if your family has a history of colorectal cancer. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have much.”
This resource has been prepared with support from Merck.
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