How Chadwick Boseman’s Death May Save Your Life

The 43-year old’s death should be a wake-up call that colorectal cancer affects young people, too.

The tragic death of Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at age 43 has stunned the world. Boseman, a prominent actor who was most known for his role as the ‘Black Panther’, had been secretly battling cancer for four years. His death from colon cancer at such a young age puts a spotlight on the fact that colon cancer has been increasingly affecting younger adults over the past decade.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer diagnosed in men and women in the U.S., excluding skin cancers. But although the number of people being diagnosed with the disease has dropped overall, statistics indicate that the rate of younger people diagnosed has increased. In 2004, cases of newly diagnosed colorectal cancer in people under age 50 were 10%. By 2015, that rate rose to 12.2%.  Many younger patients (over 50%) were diagnosed at later stages of the disease.

Boseman’s death also points out another sobering reality. Colorectal cancer rates also differ by ethnicity, with rates being 20% higher in African Americans than non-Hispanic whites. The rate of death is also 40% higher in this group.

The American Cancer Society recommends that adults at average risk for colorectal cancer begin screening at age 45. People at higher risk may need to start screenings earlier or have them done more often. The gold standard of colorectal cancer screening is colonoscopy, but may also be done by flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or double contrast barium enema (DCBE). It’s best to talk with your doctor about which test is right for you.

While Boseman’s cancer would not have been caught early enough even with stringent testing according to recommended guidelines, screening is an important part of beating colorectal cancer since survival rates are far higher when the cancer is caught in its early stages. If found early, this type of cancer has over a 90% 5-year survival rate. Once it spreads to other organs, that rate drops to about 14%.

Lowering Colon Cancer Risk

While no cancer is preventable, many risk factors are under your control. Here are 7 tips to help lower your colorectal cancer risk:

  1. Achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Follow a diet high in fiber that includes lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains and not much red and processed meats.
  3. Exercise regularly.
  4. Don’t smoke.
  5. Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
  6. Follow recommended colorectal screening guidelines.
  7. See a doctor if you notice any warning signs, including changes in bowel patterns, straining or discomfort with bowel movements, rectal bleeding or feeling full or bloated (keep in mind that colorectal cancer may cause no warning signs so regular screenings are still the most proactive thing you can do to help find cancer early when it’s most treatable).

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Date Last Reviewed: September 3, 2020

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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