WASHINGTON – With blacks dying in greater percentages from colorectal cancers, and screening an easy way to slow the disease, Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville, asked legislators Wednesday to consider legislation to fund the fight against the nation’s second-deadliest cancer.
“Early screening is what this bill’s about,” Wynn said. “In the African-American community, this is a silent epidemic.”
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in America. The mortality rate is also 40 percent higher for blacks than it is for whites, according to the American Cancer Society.
Just 21 percent of the uninsured and underinsured are screened for colorectal cancer, said Durado Brooks, director of the society’s prostate and colorectal cancers division — “That’s a travesty in the United States.”
The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 153,760 new cases of colon and rectal cancer this year, with 52,180 of those resulting in death, including 970 projected in Maryland.
The society also estimates that 50-80 percent of the fatal colorectal cancer patients could have been saved through testing. When diagnosed early, a patient has a five-year survival rate of 90 percent, but just 39 percent of these cancers are diagnosed at an early stage.
Screenings generally begin at age 50, with the most effective method being a colonoscopy.
“We’re not talking about new technology,” Brooks said.
“Delayed diagnosis is a fundamental problem,” Wynn said. “Many African-Americans do not get screened due to lack of information and there’s a lot of anxiety about the testing process.”
If passed, the bill would give state and local health agencies $50 million annually for screening and treatment programs. It would target people age 50 to 64, with priority given to the uninsured and underinsured.
As America’s population ages, access to screening becomes increasingly important, Wynn said. Medicare kicks in at 65, but screenings should begin long before, at age 50.
Wynn, 55, who was screened two years ago, joined Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, for the announcement, and is the lead Democratic sponsor in the reintroduction of the Colorectal Cancer Early Detection, Prevention and Treatment Act (HR 5790).
Granger, Wynn and 10 other co-sponsors first introduced the bill in the last Congress.
“What we need from you (Congress) is your attention,” said Granger, whose father died of colon cancer.
Also joining Wynn and Granger at the news conference was nine-time Olympic medal winner, swimmer Dara Torres, whose father also died of colon cancer. She said people need to move beyond the embarrassment of the whole thing, because “colorectal screening saves lives.”