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Defying Taboos Surrounding Colon Cancer


Beyond the age of two or so, it is considered impolite at the very least and "nasty" at worst to talk about the bodily function of one's behind - more technically, one's colon and rectum.


It's not exactly the subject of dinner conversation. More often, it's the subject of crude jokes.


By Dr. Lorraine Cole


This social taboo makes us pretend that grown-ups don't poop - especially women. Even the place where we use the toilet has pleasant-sounding names, such as the "powder room," "ladies room," "rest room" and "little girl's room."


And, name the number of polite words there are for buttocks - "derrière," "booty," "touché," "buns," "rump," "behind," "back side," for starters.


Our social mores also cause us to avoid being examined "back there" at the doctor's office. Modesty is killing too many of us from something that is entirely preventable - colorectal cancer.   


Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer and the third most common cause of cancer death among Black women.


According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 8,560 Black women are diagnosed with colon cancer each year. That's equivalent to 25 jumbo jet airplanes filled to capacity.


When it comes to counting the number of deaths of Black women from colon cancer each year, it's the same as if 11 of those jumbo jets didn't make it to their destination.


More Black women die from colorectal cancer each year than any other group of women or men.


The good news is that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. It almost always starts out as a tiny non-cancerous growth, called a polyp, which can cause cancer if not removed.


So, if a polyp is found in time and taken out, cancer can be avoided. Not a bad trade-off for the little embarrassment of an exposed buttock.


There is a wide range of screening tests for colorectal cancer, from low-tech, do-it-yourself test kits to clinical exams performed by health professionals. The easiest tests can be done by you in the privacy of your home.


More thorough tests are done in a doctor's office or hospital. But, too often, Black women are not referred for the most effective or thorough medical tests compared to other groups of women and men. 


According to the Institute of Medicine report titled "Unequal Treatment," Black women get the poorest quality of health care regardless of income, education and health insurance coverage.


A bizarre combination of racism and sexism seems to occur when Black women need care. Therefore, Black women cannot afford to be coy about any part of their bodies, particularly when it comes to matters of health. 


Popular culture has been slowly and steadily allowing us to be more comfortable talking about our exterior posterior.


I recall being somewhat taken aback when the 70s hit song told us to "shake, shake, shake…shake, shake, shake…shake your booty" and was further stunned when my, then, 3-year-old goddaughter sang the words.


In the 80s, we became bold enough to bump hips on the dance floor, "doing da' butt." And, who would have ever imagined that in the 90s, a lyrical ode called the "Thong Song" would be topping the charts.


More recently, songstress Beyoncé coined the term "bootylicious" and created a new dance craze. She even taught Oprah her rear-end "bounce" on national television.


And, these days, I shudder at the thought of my teen-ager dancing to "my hump, my hump, my hump…my lovely lady lumps," but admit that I find my head bobbing to the beat. But, we need to become just as fixated on our interior posterior as we are on its exterior aesthetic.  

So, we're calling a virtual meeting in the ladies room and you're invited.

In this section, BlackWomensHealth.ORG, the Black Women's Health Imperative has teamed with the US National Women's Health Resource Center to urge Black women to be aware of colorectal cancer and take action to prevent it.

Woman to woman, girlfriend to girlfriend, sister girl to sister girl, we've included everything you need to know about colorectal cancer. In other words, we want to save your butt - yes, I said it!

Dr Cole is the CEO of the US-based Black Women's Health Imperative - a leading African American health education, research, advocacy and leadership development institution.

Editor's Note: For women living outside the United States, please consult your doctor, hospital and health workers for further information about colon cancer.

 E-mail comments to editor@thenewblackmagazine.com


Looking After Your Hump - Your Lovely Lady Lump!

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