The American Cancer Society encourages African American men and women 50 and older to make testing for colorectal cancer a priority. Colorectal cancer (commonly referred to as colon cancer) is the third most common cancer among African American men and women. Colon cancer can be prevented through screening, which allows doctors to find and remove polyps in the colon before they turn cancerous. African Americans should begin testing for colon cancer at age 50, but those with a family history are at higher risk and should start testing sooner.

Colon cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest in African American men and women, but colon cancer screening has been proven to reduce deaths from the disease. By decreasing the number of people diagnosed with colon cancer and by finding a higher proportion of cancers at early, more treatable stages, screening has decreased rates in California by 18 percent among African Americans.

“We have the opportunity to significantly reduce California death rates from colon cancer through regular screening,” said David F. Veneziano, CEO, American Cancer Society, California Division Inc. “This cancer can be prevented through early detection and removal of polyps. We hope that Californians will use March–National Colon Cancer Awareness Month–as an opportunity to make screening a priority and talk to their doctors, family members and friends about getting tested. It’s a conversation that could save lives.”

An estimated 14,530 cases of colorectal cancer and 5,120 deaths are expected to occur in California. Risk factors for colon cancer include a personal family history of the disease, which makes it necessary to learn the family’s colon cancer history, and communicate findings with a doctor.

Healthy lifestyle behaviors can also reduce risk of colon cancer. Studies show that being overweight or obese increases colon cancer risk, as do diets high in red and processed meats.

The American Cancer Society recommends that African American adults engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five or more days a week; and consume a healthy diet that includes five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day, whole grains (instead of processed grains and sugars), limited alcohol and processed red meats, and controlled portion sizes.

In addition, long-term smoking (for more than four decades) increases colon cancer risk by 30 to 50 percent. To help reduce cancer risk from smoking, the Society supports Proposition 29, which will appear on the June 5 ballot in California. The proposition will increase the tobacco tax by $1 and invest nearly $600 million per year for cancer research. It will keep 200,000 youth from becoming smokers and prevent more than 100,000 premature deaths, including those from colon cancer.

Thanks to improvements in prevention, early detection, and treatment, more than a million people in the U.S. count themselves as survivors of colon cancer. Regularly scheduled cancer screening can save lives and help achieve the American Cancer Society’s goal of creating a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Tests that have a higher likelihood of finding polyps and cancer are preferred if patients are willing to use them and have access.

Whether a person is concerned about developing colon cancer, making decisions about treatment, or trying to stay well after treatment, the American Cancer Society can help. Visit or call (800) 227-2345 for information and details about free cancer patient/caregiver support programs.

The American Cancer Society recommends the following tests to find colon cancer early:

Tests that detect precancerous polyps and cancer
* Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, or
* Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
* Double contrast barium enema (DCBE) every five years, or
* CT colonography (CTC) every five years

Tests that primarily detect cancer

* Annual guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or
* Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT) with high test sensitivity for cancer, or