Chadwick Boseman’s legacy extends beyond Hollywood. His dying of colon cancer has started conversations about the health of one’s gut. Per the American Cancer Society, African Americans are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it than other groups (with Black men having the highest incidence).
Medical professionals are advocating for more screenings in communities of color. The Tribune spoke to Dr. Karen Kim, professor of medicine, director of the Center for Asian Health Equity and a gastroenterologist of more than 20 years working at UChicago Medicine.
“I would say all communities of color either suffer from lower screening or higher mortality,” Kim said. “But particularly African American men, they get colon cancer much more so than any other population and die from it. From any stage — late stage, early stage, middle stage — they don’t do as well, in general, compared to any other population, and we certainly need to understand why.”
Kim said screening has to start earlier if polyps (abnormal tissue growth) in the colon are to be caught before they turn cancerous.
“We think we usually have about a 15-year period before a polyp becomes a cancer,” she said. “The one thing we know is the only way colon screening works is by giving people choices. And that choice is not just colonoscopy. There’s lots of choices, and it really depends on what kind of insurance you have, what kind of access you have, and what your personal preferences are.”
Depending on your lifestyle, one choice may be better than another, Kim said. Here are some alternatives to the traditional colonoscopy.
The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a colon cancer screening test that can be done at home using a kit from your doctor. There’s no prep involved with this stool test. All you do is mail your sample to a lab. A FIT test typically costs $15 and can be coordinated with your primary physician annually, Kim said.
The cheapest route, Kim said medical professionals like to link FIT tests to the flu shot. “Because people are pretty good about getting annual flu shots, we do a flu/FIT: Get a flu shot, and then pick up your FIT kit at the same time, so you remember around the fall to do it.”
Cologuard is another stool-based test that can be taken in the privacy of your home. This test looks for genetic mutations in the stool. Kim says it’s a great test that has to be taken every three years. This test ranges from $500 to $700, but is covered by Medicare and most insurances, she says.
“These are great. These tests look for blood in the stool. It takes no time whatsoever. These tests are really great options for people who are scared about having a colonoscopy,” Kim said.
A CT colonography is a CT scan of the large intestine — a “virtual colonoscopy,” Kim said. These have to be ordered through your primary care physician or nurse practitioner, to make sure the results are tracked.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure in which a scope is inserted…