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By Black Women's Health Imperative


Monday, March 10, 2008.


Despite having the greatest risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer (CRC) of any gender, race or ethnicity, an astounding majority of Black women do not consider themselves to be at high risk for the disease, according to recent studies.


This alarming misperception has resulted in deadly inaction, with 70 percent of Black women in America over the age of 45 not getting potentially life-saving screenings for CRC.


Responding to this significant health threat, the US-based Black Women's Health Imperative (Imperative) and the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC) joined forces to launch Black Women Dare to be Aware. 


An educational initiative designed to uniquely address the needs of our women, the  initiative confronts the issues preventing Black women from getting screened and seeking treatment by daring them to recognize their heightened risk and take action.


"Colorectal cancer is not color blind and it has a penchant for Black women," said Lorraine Cole, the former president and CEO of the US-based Black Women’s Health Imperative. "


Our mission is to let every Black woman  know why it's so critical for them to get screened early.  We're also giving them tools to help them take action against this deadly but beatable disease," added Elizabeth Battaglino Cahill, RN, executive director, NWHRC.


Many of our women are not aware of the benefits of early detection. In fact, if colorectal cancer is detected while still in the localized stage, the five-year survival rate in among Blacks is 83 percent. However, according to the survey, a mere six percent of women over 45 discussed CRC the last time they saw their health care provider, because they didn't think they were at particular risk (27%), their doctor didn't bring it up (15%) or they didn't think there was a reason to (16%). 


Many theories - some supported by research - attempt to explain the disparity in screening habits for Black women, ranging from health care access, to socioeconomic factors, to cultural beliefs, to inadequate patient education. 


Fear and lack of awareness of their heightened risk surfaced as major obstacles to screening for survey respondents; most Black women over age 40 would be more likely to get screened for cancer if they believed they were at risk (94%); if they had symptoms (95%) - which do not present until the disease is advanced; if they were not afraid to find out the results (70%); if the tests were not so unpleasant (71%); and if the side effects of cancer treatment were not so bad (73%).


Yet only 36 percent of respondents are even aware of treatment options including oral chemotherapy, which may have less severe side effects than intravenous therapy.


"Black women face many barriers to screening, detection and treatment of colorectal cancer, but getting beyond our own fear and learning the facts can go a long way in improving our survival and quality of life," said Dr. Edith Mitchell, clinical professor of medicine and program leader in gastrointestinal oncology, Thomas Jefferson University.


"Colorectal cancer is not a death sentence, so don't let that stop you from asking your health care provider about screening and, if colon cancer is found, treatment. Colorectal cancer is not only treatable but beatable."


When screening reveals the presence of colorectal cancer, there are viable treatment options available depending on the stage of the disease, including surgery, chemotherapy, monoclonal antibodies, and radiation.


The field of colorectal cancer therapy continues to advance, and chemotherapy drugs, including oral chemotherapy, have been effective in eradicating and shrinking tumors and delaying tumor growth.


Oral chemotherapy, in particular, is an option that may help some patients continue going to work or spending time with family and friends because they are spending less time in the clinic for treatment. 


Black women need to learn about their heightened risk for CRC and take steps to prevent or detect it. In both UK and the United States, there are critical information and tools to help women take action, including fact sheets; important CRC questions answered by a Black oncologist; a risk assessment tool; a Black colorectal cancer survivor's story; an educational brochure; and a list of important colorectal cancer resources. 


If you live in the UK, your GP and local NHS health centres will provide valuable help in securing information and getting help. If you are an American citizen, please visit the Imperative's Web site www.blackwomenshealth.org and the NWHRC Web site at http://www.healthywomen.org/ to access any of these materials.


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