Colon cancer disproportionately impacts Black Americans, but new campaign wants to close the gap


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Kimberly McNeil has wonderful memories of her grandmother from growing up in Camden, New Jersey.

“With my nana, which is what I called her, I would always be excited to see her,” McNeil said. “She was always the one to give you the one thing that you wanted.”

But her grandmother’s life was cut short. Sammie died of colon cancer when she was 72.

Her family didn’t even know she was suffering.

“There are some things that we don’t necessarily like to talk about as a culture of people, that are really important,” McNeil said. “And when you don’t talk about it or you don’t have the awareness of it, it’s often ignored.”

Now, Kimberly is starting the conversation through a campaign by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the University of Pennsylvania and Independence Blue Cross called 45 Plus Reasons.

The number 45 is a nod to the age people should start regular colon cancer screenings.

“The ‘plus reasons’ is that everybody has their own individual reason as to why they should go get screened,” McNeil said. “My parents and my son are definitely my personal reasons.”

This campaign is hyperfocused on Black Philadelphians, with the goal of getting thousands of them screened.

African Americans are 20% more likely to get colon cancer, and when they do, they’re nearly 40% more likely to die from it.

“Part of that can be explained through the lack of access to early colon cancer screening,” Penn Medicine’s Dr. Carmen Guerra said.

Through pop-up events, the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is educating the community on screening options. One recent event was held at the Dell Music Center in Strawberry Mansion.

“Screening is the most vital thing that people can do,” Guerra said.

And getting screened doesn’t necessarily even mean a colonoscopy.

The alliance is also providing free at-home screening kits.

“So those fit cards that you can take home and at the comfort of your home, at your convenience, you can collect a sample of stool and then put it in the little container, mail it back,” Guerra said.

Then Penn Medicine doctors like Dr. Guerra evaluate the results and recommend next steps.

“Most people who have a screening test, over 90% plus will be told that they’re okay,” Guerra said.

And when caught early, colon cancer has one of the highest survival rates, at over 90%.

“Getting screened could save your life,” McNeil said.

There are a number of upcoming screening events. But if you can’t get to one, you can take a five-minute quiz online to find out your screening options, including that at-home kit. 

You can find all the information you need at

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