This past week, at the young age of 43, Chadwick Boseman died of what we think of as an “old man’s disease.” The actor is known for his famous roles as Jackie Robinson in 42 and T’Challa in Black Panther and has had a profound positive impact on Hollywood, especially the Black community. He is beloved by many people of all ages. In the wake of his shocking death, many are starting to raise more concern and discussions about colon cancer. Boseman’s death highlights rising colon cancer rates in younger people.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, and rates have been increasing about 2 percent annually in recent years in people under 50, according to the American Cancer Society. Scientists do not have a clear reason for this trend. Even more concerning, those under the age of 55 are 58% more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer.
Why Does Screening Matter So Much?
“The five-year survival rate for young people for early-stage disease is 94 percent,” said Rebecca L. Siegel, the scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society (ACS). For people with late stages of the disease, the survival rate can be as low as 20 percent, she said. Early diagnosis, Ms. Siegel said, is “the difference between life and death.”
Racial Disparities in Colon Cancer Deaths
“African-Americans are 40 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer. It’s because of later-stage diagnosis, it’s because of systemic racism and all that this population has been dealing with for hundreds of years,” according to Ms. Siegel of the ACS. Another factor that may contribute to higher deaths in the Black community may be variations of recommendations based on race and ethnicity. This makes diagnoses and screenings much more complex. Many doctors and physicians may be unaware that Black individuals often require different recommendations.
CDC USCS: Rate of Cancer Deaths by Sex and Race/Ethnicity per 100,000 people
Efforts to increase awareness and to decrease the stigma around colon cancer in the Black community seem to be working. New research shows the effectiveness of patient navigator programs using Black barbershops to engage the community. UHRU also hopes to contribute to this cause by increasing access to care among underserved communities. We plan to reduce the stigma and educate underserved communities about colorectal cancer and screening.
Should I Get Screened?
We suggest following the American Cancer Society’s recommendations. Also be aware of your family history.
Some symptoms of colorectal cancer that ACS says to watch for include:
A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
Dark stools, or blood in the stool
Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
Weakness and fatigue
Unintended weight loss
These symptoms often occur at late stages of colorectal cancer. If colorectal cancer can be detected early, treatment will be much easier and survival will be more likely.
Together, we must reduce the stigma behind colorectal cancer screening and address health disparities in communities all across America.
Visit www.UHRU.org to learn more about our Georgia Colon Cancer Prevention Project.
Belluck, P. (2020, August 29). What to Know About Colon Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/health/colon-cancer-chadwick-boseman.html
Flier, L. A., Rico, G., & Connor, Y. D. (2020, August 31). Chadwick Boseman and changing landscape of colon cancer. Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2020/08/31/disparities-kill-king-of-wakanda-chadwick-boseman-changing-landscape-colon-cancer-demographics/