Despite Pandemic Worries, Cancer Screenings for Black Adults Must Persist

Image: Thomas Barwick.

In recent weeks a number of states, including Illinois, have asked hospitals to delay elective surgeries and or procedures due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. And while the move is designed to limit infection rates of the potentially fatal virus, the decision has historically caused a backlog in cancer screenings, heavily affecting populations that have limited resources. In a new Harris Poll examining health disparities in colorectal cancer (CRC) screening among American adults aged 45-75, respondents in vulnerable populations were more likely to be concerned about getting colorectal cancer. Those most concerned were Black adults. 

When Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died at the age of 43, it sent waves of shock and sadness throughout the Black community. But Mississippi doctor Timothy Quinn says his cause of death also brought awareness to a prevelant form of cancer that affects the Black community at disproportionate rates. According to the American Cancer Society, the rates are the highest of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. African Americans are roughly 20 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40 percent more likely to die from it than most other groups. It’s why Quinn says that despite the pandemic, Black adults can not afford to skip these important screenings.

“One of the number one reasons people don’t get screened is a lack of understanding,” Quinn tells EBONY. “When you get screened for cancer you have the opportunity to make an educated decision on whether or not you want to have surgery, take therapy or address it with some other type of treatment.” 

The Medical Director of Quinn Healthcare adds that being equipped with that information gives patients, in most cases, an opportunity to intervene before the cancer has had an opportunity to grow and spread and possibly metastasize, or move to other parts of the body where it’s incurable.

Though a level of responsibility is on the patient, the Harris Poll also suggests the rate at which Black adults are recommended for colorectal cancer screenings by a health care provider is less than that of their white counterparts (43 percent versus 35 percent). It’s why Quinn is adamant that Black adults in the proposed screening age of 45-plus should be proactive in seeking these screenings out on their own and talking to their doctor candidly about any health concerns they may have.

Cologuard, though not a replacement for a colonoscopy, is a screening test that Quinn says has been very helpful during the pandemic as hospitals were encouraging surgeons and other doctors to decrease elective procedures and/or surgeries. Cologuard is an at-home screening test thant can detect certain DNA markers and blood in the stool to alert patients of potential risks to their health. “If somebody has clinical signs and symptoms we will go ahead and do the colonoscopy. That’s the protocol that we follow here at our clinic,” says Quinn. “But the take home is that it’s a good idea to just educate yourself and know that there are screening options.” 

Colorectal cancer screenings for people over the age of 45 should be covered under the Affordable Care Act for everyone with no out of pocket cost. Medicare covers screening colonoscopies once every two years for those at high risk for colorectal cancer and every 120 months, or 48 months after a previous flexible sigmoidoscopy. There is no minimum age requirement.

“It’s very important that we as a community, get on the offense as opposed to the defense, being proactive instead of reactive,” Quinn insists. “This is going to be key for the United States when it comes to decreasing the death rate of our people, and decreasing illness and sickness that could potentially be avoided.”

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