BALTIMORE — It’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and health experts are sounding the alarm over higher fatality rates in young women.
Maryland is among the states considered to be “hotspots” for colon cancer, which is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., but also the most preventable.
A study published in December 2020 shows early-onset colorectal cancer in young women has been linked to such factors as lack of physical activity and obesity.
Dr. Reezwana Chowdhury, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said healthcare disparities contribute to late detection, and a worse prognosis.
“We know that African Americans do have a higher incidence and mortality from colorectal cancer,” Chowdhury observed. “So, one is adequate healthcare; reaching a physician to discuss symptoms, coming in to get their screening.”
According to the study, Black women living in hotspot states like Maryland accounted for 23% of early-onset colorectal cancer cases, compared to 14% in other states. Rates of early-onset colon cancer among white women were about the same, no matter whether they lived in an area classified as a hotspot.
The study cites not only low physical activity and poor diet, but socioeconomic status as a contributor to colon-cancer prevalence.
In Maryland, twice as many Black residents live below the poverty line as white residents, and women are more likely to have lower incomes than men.
Dr. Chowdhury noted these are warning signs worth paying attention to.
“It kind of brings to our attention, ‘Let’s not ignore symptoms that we might have in the past,’ because maybe it could be more heightened, or sensitive, to the fact that something may be going on in our environment,” Chowdhury advised. “There are other folks in our location who are now being diagnosed with earlier-onset colorectal cancer.”
She added colon cancer is more treatable at an early stage, but the pandemic has led to a major drop in preventive screenings, down 86% nationwide, according to electronic health records.