Chadwick Boseman’s Secret Battle with Colon Cancer

Chadwick Boseman’s Secret Battle with Colon Cancer

The recent death of 43-year-old actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer shocked the world. When it was revealed that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, fans were astonished. As it turns out, the star of 42 and Get On Up had been undergoing treatment while he was making critically acclaimed, high-profile films like Black Panther and Da 5 Bloods. 

Boseman’s passing sheds light on this illness along with several shocking statistics. Colon cancer is expected to cause about 53,200 deaths in 2020, according to Cancer.org. Colorectal cancer is also the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States among men and women combined. While traditionally thought of as a disease that affects older adults, over the last few years there has been a 2.2% increase of colon cancer in young adults under age 50. In fact, 11% of the cases of colorectal cancer occur in this age group.

In addition, there are disparities among colorectal cancers among different racial and ethnic groups. The rate of colorectal cancer in Black people is 20% higher than in White people, and Black people are 40% more likely to die of the disease than White people. In addition, Latino and Native populations also face unique barriers in access to screenings, which results in poor health outcomes.

Although these statistics seem dire, the good news is that colon cancer is largely preventable. As gastroenterologist and cancer researcher Dr. Fola P. May points out, “90% of cancer cases are curable if caught early enough.” Due to the high recovery success rate with early detection, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable has set a public health priority: they encourage 80% of Americans to be screened for colorectal cancer in every community.

Dr. May urges those who exhibit the “classic signs” of colorectal cancer—blood in the stool, new abdominal pain, or rectal pain—to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible, especially if there is a history of colon cancer in the family. She cautions anyone exhibiting these symptoms not to dismiss them as less serious health concerns like hemorrhoids or gastrointestinal distress. 

Screening rates should be increased, urges Dr. May, for those with access to high-quality health care as well as underserved populations that often have the lowest screening rates.

Especially during the COVID pandemic, when there is an increased fear of going to health facilities, it’s important for medical providers to inform patients that there are safe procedures in place to perform screenings. “Cancer,” she says, “will not wait for COVID-19 to go away.”

Perhaps if we increase public awareness of the risk factors for and symptoms of colorectal cancer, we can prevent more untimely deaths from the disease. It would be a way to honor Chadwick Boseman and his legacy, Dr. May suggests, “and perhaps prevent another brilliant start from fading too soon.”


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