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Socioeconomic Disparities in Colon Cancer Deaths

Colon cancer is an equal opportunity offender. It affects the young and old, rich and poor, men and women, and people of all ethnicities and geographic locations. But new study findings show that colon cancer mortality is anything but equal. The American Cancer Society reports that half of all premature colon cancer deaths in Americans aged 25 to 64 are linked to ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic inequalities, and therefore could be prevented.

In the past, deaths from colon cancer were most often seen in whites, in northern states and in people with higher socioeconomic status. However, over the last several decades there has been a significant shift, with death rates now highest among African Americans, people living in southern states and in people with the lowest socioeconomic status. Education is also a factor, with much higher death rates seen among people with the least education.

Access to early detection and treatment appears to be responsible for the disparities, according to lead researcher and American Cancer Society Vice President, Surveillance and Health Services, Ahmedin Jemal, D.V.M. Ph.D. Jemal says that these disparities would disappear if all people were screened at the same rates, but this would require changes in health care, policy, and individuals.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American men and women, but it is also one of the most preventable cancers. People can significantly lower their risk of colon cancer with proper screening and lifestyle changes:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight – obesity increases the risk of developing colon cancer and dying from it.
  • Eat a healthy diet – a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean protein is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. A diet high in red meat and processed meat can increase the risk.
  • Stay physically active – a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of colon cancer.
  • Limit alcohol – men should limit themselves to two drinks a day; women should limit themselves to one drink a day.
  • Quit smoking – long-term smokers are more likely to die from colon cancer.

Men and women of average risk should begin screening colonoscopies by the age of 50 and every 10 years thereafter. African Americans should begin screening at age 45. If you are considered high risk or have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about when to begin screening and how often (Source: The American Cancer Society).

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