Raising Colorectal Cancer Awareness Among African-Americans

Armen Hareyan's picture

Colon Cancer and African-Americans

Despite advances in research and treatment that continue to help many people live beyond a colorectal cancer diagnosis, African-Americans are more likely to die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic group.

Edith P. Mitchell, M.D., is trying to do something about that.

Dr. Mitchell, clinical professor of medical oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, spearheaded an educational film, The Colon Cancer Puzzle: Putting all the Right Pieces Together to Beat It. The video is aimed at physicians and healthcare professionals to educate their African American patients and the community at-large about colorectal cancer and the importance of early detection.

"It is essential that physicians talk to their patients, particularly their African-American patients, about colorectal cancer," says Dr. Mitchell, associate director of diversity programs at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson. "If members of the community are educated, they can recognize when they are at risk and ask the right questions regarding prevention, screening and treatment."


According to Dr. Mitchell, incidence rates for African-Americans are increasing: In recent years, colorectal cancer incidence has risen 46 percent among African-American men and 10 percent among African-American women. African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in its more advanced stages when there are fewer treatment options available, and they are less likely to live five or more years after being diagnosed than other populations.

Some potential reasons include environmental factors, access to diagnostic testing and healthcare, cultural factors that may delay diagnosis or affect treatment choices, biological features of the disease, and lack of physician communication. There may also be genetic factors that contribute to the higher incidence rate of the disease among the African-American population. However when it is detected early, the survival rate for colorectal cancer in African Americans is 84 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The most effective risk reduction tool for colorectal cancer is undergoing routine colorectal screening tests. But research suggests that regular exercise, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate alcohol consumption, and not smoking may help prevent cancer and other diseases in general.

Dr. Mitchell has authored and co-authored more than 100 articles, book chapters, and abstracts on cancer treatment, prevention and cancer control. She also is the principal investigator of the Special Populations Network for Cancer Control at Thomas Jefferson University. The Special Population Network was created to build relationships between large research institutions and community-based programs and to find ways of addressing important questions about the burden of cancer in minority communities.

Funding and production of "The Colon Cancer Puzzle: Putting all the Right Pieces Together to Beat It." was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Genentech BioOncology.