Screening Explains Some of the White/Black Cancer Gap

If African-Americans got screened more often for colon cancer, their rates of the disease would be much closer to those seen among whites and their death rates would fall, too, researchers projected on Thursday.

American Cancer Society research indicated that differences in screening account for more than 40 percent of the disparity in colorectal cancer incidence and nearly 20 percent of colorectal cancer mortality between blacks and whites. Equal access to care could greatly reduce disparities between blacks and whites, the researchers report in the society's journalĀ Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

Iris Lansdorp-Vogelaar, a visiting scientist at the American Cancer Society who is now at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, used a computer simulation model to apply the screening and survival rates seen among whites to the population of black Americans 50 and over. She compared real data on colon cancer to the projections of what would happen if blacks got screened as often as whites do.

The white/black gap in colon-cancer cases among black men and women 50 and older would drop, she estimated, from 28.2 per 100,000 people to 16.4 cases per 100,000. Screening would decrease the mortality gap from 26.8 to 21.6 deaths per 100,000.

Americans are advised to start getting regular colon-cancer screening, preferably by colonoscopy, starting at age 50. About 40 percent of Americans fail to do so, and whites are more likely to be up to date. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in 2010, 59.8 percent of whites got screened compared to 55 percent of blacks.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cancer killer, and is diagnosed in 142,000 people every year. It kills more than 53,000 people a year, although colonoscopies can remove pre-cancerous lesions and can catch tumors in their earliest, most treatable stages.