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Race and Ethnicity Affects Colon Cancer Screening Rates

racial disparities

Colorectal cancer is expected to claim the lives of 50,000 Americans this year. As the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, colorectal cancer is gaining more attention among researchers. Colorectal cancer is one of the only types of cancer that can be prevented through screening, but not all racial and ethnic groups are choosing screenings at the same rate.

David Baker, M.D., chief of Medicine: General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and David Liss, Ph.D., M.A. ’08, research assistant professor in Medicine: General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, conducted and published a study of colon cancer screening rates in America. They used data from 200,000 individuals in seven racial/ethnic categories: whites, blacks/African Americans, Asians, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska natives, Hispanic-English speakers and Hispanic-Spanish speakers.


The colon cancer screening rate for white Americans was the highest at 62 percent. This was over twice the rate of Spanish-speaking Hispanics at 30.6 percent. Even after the statistics were adjusted for access to screening and socioeconomic factors, the screening rate for whites was still 24 percent higher than Hispanic-Spanish speakers and 22 percent higher than Asians. The difference between whites and English-speaking Hispanics was much narrower. After adjusting for income, education and health insurance, English-speaking Hispanics were only 6 percent less likely to be screened.

What the Results Mean

The results of the study found that colonoscopy is the most popular colon screening method. Some of the disparity in screening rates is likely due to the fact that colonoscopies are expensive and are often not covered by insurance. High cost barriers definitely factor into decisions of whether to have a colon screening, and minorities are more likely to have to face these choices. Unfortunately, removing financial obstacles may not completely solve this dilemma. Dr. Baker added, “Our findings suggest, however, that even if traditionally uninsured groups gain insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, disparities for groups such as Spanish-speaking Hispanics and Asians are likely to continue.”

Although the initial study is complete, Baker and Liss are not done with their work. They are now conducting more research to increase colorectal screening in federally qualified health care centers in Chicago (Source: Feinberg Northwestern).

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posted on August 8, 2014 in news