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Sharp Health News

Colorectal cancer screening rates low for Filipino-Americans

March 30, 2017

Colorectal cancer screening rates low for Filipino-Americans

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. It is also one of the easiest to potentially treat with success if it’s caught early. Tests like colonoscopies or fecal occult blood tests can help improve survival rates, but the percentage of Americans who actually take these tests is low.

This is true for Filipino-Americans, who are screened in lower numbers than non-Hispanic whites, according to the American Cancer Society, although screening rates are improving. Unfortunately, this results in higher instances of colorectal cancer, specifically in Filipino men over age 50.

“Language barriers may play a role in lower rates of appropriate colorectal cancer screening in the Filipino population, but other factors also contribute,” says Dr. Kenneth Johnson, an oncologist and hematologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “The fear of being diagnosed with cancer may be the biggest obstacle to effective screening; however, patient education programs may help alleviate this fear, as the importance of screening needs to be emphasized as much as possible.”

Not only is it necessary to be educated on the importance of getting screened, but knowing the risk factors for developing colorectal cancer is vital as well.

According to Dr. Johnson, common risk factors include:

  • Age (specifically over 50)
  • Genetics and family history
  • Other diseases, like diabetes
  • High intake of processed foods and red meats
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol use

“As with many cultures, the Filipino population may be hesitant to undergo the recommended screening out of concern and fear of what may be found,” says Dr. Johnson. “However, emphasis should be aimed at finding disease at a premalignant or early stage, which can be done with tests like colonoscopies and fecal occult blood tests. This results in improved survival outcomes and a lower risk of cancer recurrence and death from cancer.”

The majority of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer are aged 50 or older. That is why screenings are recommended to begin at age 50. Early detection can result in the removal of precancerous polyps, which prevents the progression of these lesions to cancer.

In addition to regular screening, Dr. Johnson suggests that all people exercise often and follow a healthy diet that includes a variety of dietary fiber.

This story was updated in April 2018 to reflect new screening rates from the American Cancer Society.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Johnson for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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