(New Orleans) Ask almost anyone about cancer and they’ll probably list lung, breast and prostate as major killers. But the one they won’t list is colorectal cancer, even though it is the second-leading cause of cancer death in both Louisiana and the United States.

That is why the Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (LCCCP) is encouraging all Louisianians 50 and over, to talk to their doctors about getting screening during March Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. This discussion is especially important for African American men and Cajuns, as they suffer disproportionately from the disease. African American men face a number of barriers when it comes to colorectal cancer screening, including a lack of access to screening and/or a doctor recommendation, as well as avoidance of the issue. And the recent Tulane/LSU study showing that Cajuns have a higher incidence of the disease, points to genetic factors as the culprit.

Either way, everyone 50 and over needs to get a colorectal cancer screening on a regular basis. That is because colorectal cancer is a preventable disease and people are often dying from it because of misconceptions and myths. 

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

For example, according to research from the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (NCCRT), most people know they should be screened. But they do not recognize the importance of screening and rationalize away the need for it. In addition, people believe that because they have no symptoms or family history of the disease, or that because they don’t know anyone personally with cancer, they can’t get it. There are  people who believe they are healthier than they really are, even though they don’t practice good health habits in general or discuss things with their doctor – or even go to the doctor. LCCCP Manager Colleen Huard also notes that women often mistakenly believe they can’t get colon cancer, which is not true, as women get it at the same rates as men.

Perhaps most insidious of all the beliefs that the NCCRT turned up is the negative connotation that some people associate with colorectal cancer screening, believing it to be an embarrassing, unpleasant or invasive process. That phenomena is often referred to health experts as “letting yourself die from embarrassment” and stress that while no one may love getting a colonoscopy or doing an at-home stool test, these are standard tests with minimal risk that can prevent much more serious and invasive consequences down the road.

Two other sad factors also keep people from getting screened. One is a lack of affordability, which is the number one reason people don’t get screened. Fortunately, under the Affordable Care Act, preventive screenings such as colonoscopies are now covered, so more people than ever before can get screened.

And a top reason that African Americans and Hispanics, two groups who are less likely to get screened, don’t do so is because their doctors aren’t recommending it. That is a behavior that doctors need to change, while patients also need to learn that they need to ask about screenings.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer beyond age, racial/ethnic background and misconceptions, include a history of other diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes; a personal or family history of polyps and/or colorectal cancer; inflammatory bowel disease; and inherited syndromes (FAP, HNPCC, Turcot Sydrome, Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome, MUTYH-Associated Polyposis).

Controllable or lifestyle risk factors that can lead to colorectal cancer include a diet high in red and processed meats, such as beef, pork, lamb, liver, hot dogs and certain kinds of luncheon meats; physical inactivity; being obese; smoking; and heavy use of alcohol (more than two drinks a day for men; one for women.)

Colorectal cancer in Louisiana

Colorectal cancer is such an issue in Louisiana that health experts around the state have come together to form a Louisiana Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (LCCRT). It is modeled after the NCCRT and its goal, like the NCCRT’s, is “80% by 2018” or getting everyone 50 and over screened by that date.

One message the LCCRT will relay is “the best test is the one you’re going to get,” a reference to the fact that there are colorectal cancer screening tests other than colonoscopies that can take place in the hospital, as well as at home. That is why people should discuss their screening options with doctors to be better informed as to what the best is for them, what will be covered by insurance, etc.

To learn more about colorectal cancer, go to http://lcccp.org/colorectal/.

The Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (LCCCP) is part of the CDC-funded Louisiana Cancer Prevention and Control Programs (LCP) housed at the LSU Health Sciences Center School of Public Health. For more information, go to www.louisianacancer.org.

AuthorTruc Le