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African American Health Special 2012

Colorectal Cancer in DC A war that can be won by Candace Y.A. Montague


n order to combat the rising colorectal cancer rates, the community must take a deeper look within and fund life-saving programs. Let’s face it. Some conversations are just off limits. And bathroom events are one of those conversations. Bowel habits are one of those taboo subjects that people just don’t discuss. However, when those ‘private’ events present signs of trouble, it is not wise to stay so silent. In March 2010, Dominique House, 34 year-old resident of Congress Heights, had already lost her mother, sister, and grandmother and was caring for seven children (three were her own). For a year, she had been experiencing abdominal pain, which she attributed to lactose intolerance. One day while sitting at the kitchen table with her two sons, she felt the urge to pass gas but it came out as bloody stool. She got nervous. “I went to my doctor. He told me that I had hemorrhoids and gave me some suppositories. I told my best friend ‘I’m not taking these. There’s something else wrong with me.’ ” She sought consultation from a gastrointestinal doctor. When he found a very large polyp in her colon, the ball started rolling from there. “I started crying. I thought my life was over. I thought ‘Oh God I’m going to die.’ It was devastating. But he had already spoken to a surgeon and oncologist. A week later I was having a 10-hour surgery to remove some of my colon.” She survived that battle but a second one was just around the corner. Dominique was diagnosed for the second time with colon cancer in December 2010, just two months after she finished treatment for the first bout. She had additional surgery to remove more of her colon. She


Dominique House, seated on the steps, surrounded by her family also known as her support system.

has had several colonoscopies since her last surgery and so far everything looks good. She credits her intuition for saving her life. “I’m glad I listened to my body. I was supposed to wait until 50 for screening. But if I had waited I would have never seen 50. I would have been dead.” Dominique is a cancer survivor, but but so many others will not be.

Definition and incidence rates

The third most common type of cancer for males and females alike is colorectal cancer. The digestive system uses the colon to change liquid waste in to solid waste, which in turn, is expelled from the system | JULY 2012

via the rectum and anus. Colorectal cancer begins as pre-cancerous polyps that form along the colon wall. Over the years these polyps can become tumors. Some signs of colon cancer are: • Bleeding from the rectum • Blood in the stool after a movement • Cramping in the abdomen • Feeling the need to have a bowel movement when you actually don’t have to. If a person is diagnosed with cancer, the treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2007 DC re-

ported the highest rate of colorectal cancer deaths per 100,000 (21.1). African-Americans are in the District have the highest incidence and mortality rates of colorectal cancer. Why? Dr. Oscar Streeter, professor chair of oncology at Howard University, says to look at the foods we eat. “We need to change our diet. Obesity is a major problem and that’s related to a lot of cancers. We’re seeing more diverticulitis and pockets in the colon in AfricanAmericans. How we eat affects a lot of that.” Andrew Spiegel, CEO of the Colon Cancer Alliance, adds that getting screened in time presents another obstacle. “AfricanAmericans are also diagnosed at



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