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Researchers seek African Americans for colon cancer study

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NEW PORT RICHEY - Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for some reason, African Americans seem to be one of the nation's most vulnerable ethnic groups.Researchers are familiar with the main risk factors of colon cancer - diet, lack of physical activity, age, family history and lack of screening - but there is not much known about why the risk is higher for African Americans. To find out, and to give individuals lacking access to screening an opportunity to get tested, researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa have been doing a study that targets the African American population.Clement Gwede, an associate member of Moffitt in the Division of Popular Services and associate professor of oncologic sciences at the University of South Florida, and his research coordinator, Swapomthi Govindaraju, have been conducting their study for two years in Hillsborough County. It educates participants on colon cancer and the importance of screening, and gives them access to available resources. They have expanded the study to Pinellas and Pasco counties, as Gwede told members of the African American Club of Pasco earlier this month. "Lack of screening is the most important risk factor," Gwede said. "If everyone ages 50 to 70 did screenings according to the guidelines, doctors could prevent colon cancer by up to 60 percent."The study is funded in part by the American Cancer Society and through it, Gwede hopes to address the high colon cancer risk among African Americans, as well as to educate participants about cancer prevention and make screening more widely available."The first purpose of the study is to provide people with an opportunity to actually access cancer screenings to reduce that disparity (compared to other populations)," Gwede said. "The second purpose is to test some educational materials to see how they affect people's awareness of colon cancer and screening.""The study is trying to take this widely available test proven to say lives and make it accessible to the group of people experiencing the highest proportion of the disease. This is a disease where we know we can do better."Participants who meet the requirements of the study will be given a test kit that is simple to use. Study subjects must be African Americans between the ages of 50 and 70 who have never been screened for colon cancer, and have not had a colonoscopy in the last 10 years.Participants take and mail the test, which can detect trace amounts of blood in the stool, to Moffitt, and will be informed of the results. They will receive another test kit one year later, and then for a third time at the two-year mark. An abnormal test result doesn't necessarily mean the person has cancer. The researchers will, however, recommend anyone with a positive test result undergo a colonoscopy to check for colon polyps and remove them before they become cancerous, or remove tumors before they can spread.Moffitt will help any subjects with positive test results who don't have health insurance, or have policies that don't adequately cover the cost of a colonoscopy. "Nobody is left to their own means," Gwede said. "Everyone will be put into a program if cancer is found."One participant in the study has been diagnosed with colon cancer and is being treated at Moffitt. As for the testing kit, Gwede said the technology has been improved in recent years and is less likely to create false positives than tests in the past, and there are no longer restrictions on what can be eaten or what medications can be taken before collecting test samples.The stool sample test is not a perfect test, but it's good for initial screenings."A colonoscopy is fairly expensive and not everyone can afford to have access to them, and this particular stool kit is a beginning point for people who can't get this ordinarily."Questionnaires will also need to be filled out and participants will be compensated with a Walmart gift card for taking the time to answer them. Gwede is hoping to wrap up the study in the next year or two, but would like to enroll at least 300 more individuals before then. Both Gwede and Govindaraju are available to speak to area African Americans in their churches or social groups, including on Sundays. Govindaraju can come to the home of the person in the study, if need be.African Americans in the age group of 50 to 75 are urged to contact Govindaraju at either Swapomthi.Govindaraju@moffitt.org or at (813) 745-6244. For programs and events of the African American Club of Pasco, contact Darryll Stevenson at (727) 495-3206 or Dan Callaghan at (727) 372-1742.

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