API Health Disparities: Colon Cancer

This month we continue to cover cancers that have a higher rate of incidence and mortality in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities.

Colon Cancer and Its Effects

Most colorectal cancers arise from adenomatous polyps-clusters of abnormal cells in the glands covering the inner wall of the colon. Over time, these abnormal growths enlarge and ultimately degenerate to become adenocarcinomas. Read more on causes by clicking here.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to: rectal bleeding, iron deficiency anemia, fatigue, and pale skin. More symptoms can be viewed by clicking here.

Several risk factors have been identified, including: having had, Ulcerative colitis or Crohn colitis (Crohn disease), breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer now or in the past and a family history of colon cancer. Other factors that may affect your risk of developing a colon cancer include diet, obesity/physical inactivity, and smoking.

The primary treatment of colon cancer is to surgically remove part or all of your colon. Suggestive polyps, if few in number, may be removed during colonoscopy. Radiation and Chemotherapy are also considerations. More information about treatments can be found by clicking here.

The Numbers on Colon Cancer and APIs:

  • Among Asian Americans, colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, and it is the third highest cause of cancer-related mortality.
  • Only 25% of Filipina and 38% of Korean women in the U.S. receive adequate and timely colorectal cancer screening.
  • Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates for Japanese American males and females were higher than those of every other Asian American ethnic group and even surpassed the rates for non-Hispanic Whites.
  • California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) data indicate that Japanese Americans exhibit a number of behavioral risk factors that could place them at risk for colorectal and other cancers. Particularly affected are those who are overweight, which is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 25.
  • Because there is a lack of in-language services, many API immigrants do not receive the necessary screenings for colorectal cancer.
  • At the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, researchers found that language- and culture-specific interventions could significantly raise the screening rates for colorectal cancer in low-income Chinese patients.

What can I do?

Because APIs have noticably high rates of colon cancer, there are a few key things we each can do:

  1. Educate your community about the risk factors and treatments available to fight colon cancer. More importantly, find ways to provide this in Asian languages.
  2. Talk to your legislators about the need to address this health disparity. There are already efforts put on by other community groups, such as the API National Cancer Survivors Network and the Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training.
  3. Join one of the HJN subcommittees. If colon cancer is an issue affecting the communities you work with, bring it up at the next Chronic Diseases Subcommittee meeting, or the Language Access Subcommittee meeting.

Additional Resources

American Cancer Society

Asian American Network for Cancer Awareness, Research and Training

CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians Report

The National Cancer Institute


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