A couple of weeks ago, we were all saddened to learn out about the death of world-famous movie star Chadwick Boseman after a four-year battle with colon cancer. The overall reaction to this news was sorrow and surprise, since colon cancer has generally been considered to be a geriatric disease. In recent years, however, it has become abundantly clear that colorectal cancer is rising among younger adults, and it is particularly lethal among African Americans.
While Mr. Boseman’s death at the age of 43 is undeniably a tragedy, it has brought the subject of colorectal cancer to the forefront. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance has put out a statement encouraging conversations about colon cancer awareness. To give you something to talk about, here are some alarming lesser-known facts to discuss.
Colorectal Cancer Statistics You Should Know
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer worldwide after breast and lung cancers, and it is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related death for men and women in America. Half of all new cases are diagnosed in people younger than 66 years old, and Black people are 40% more likely to die from colorectal cancer than their White counterparts. 1 in 41 Black men will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer during their lifetimes, and African Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a 20% higher rate than Whites. In fact, African Americans have the highest rates of colorectal cancer (and higher mortality rates) than any other ethnic group.
Chadwick Boseman’s Diagnosis
By the time Mr. Boseman was diagnosed in 2016, his colon cancer had already progressed to stage 3, and it had worsened to stage 4 by the time of his death four years later. It was during these four years that Chadwick portrayed his most famous role, King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther in several franchise movies, without anyone even knowing he was sick. How could he have kept this secret from everyone? Because even though it is killing Americans at an alarming rate, we don’t talk about it.
Why Getting Tested For Colon Cancer Early Is Important
When colorectal cancers are diagnosed in the early stages (stage 1 or 2), the survival rate is a whopping 90%. Unfortunately, African American patients are more likely to receive late-stage diagnoses due to systemic racism in the healthcare industry. According to a 2015 study in the journal Gastroenterology, physicians were less likely to recommend preventative screening colonoscopies to Black patients than they were to White patients.
Unfortunately, researchers aren’t quite sure why incidences of colorectal cancer are rising in younger people, or why African Americans are so much more likely to suffer from the disease. Higher rates of obesity in all age groups could be a contributing factor, but there is no conclusive evidence. The American Cancer Society recommends that everyone begin screening for colon cancer at age 45, even if they have no other risk factors (such as family history).
Even if your personal physician has not spoken to you about having a screening colonoscopy, don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and ask about your personal risk factors. General practitioners may not be as quick to assume your symptoms are caused by colorectal cancer. Find out which method your doctor recommends for colon cancer detection, and discuss any family history or uncommon digestive symptoms.
Be Proactive And Get Screened
Screening colonoscopies are considered to be the gold standard for colon cancer detection. During a colonoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera attached is passed through the large intestine so that the entire colon can be visually examined by a board certified gastroenterologist. If colon cancer or polyps (abnormal clumps of precancerous cells) are detected during the screening, a biopsy can be taken immediately and sent to a lab for analysis. The entire process (from diet prep to exam completion to recovery) takes approximately 24 hours in all. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to talk about colorectal cancer or to think about having a colonoscopy, but would you do it if it could help save your life? Call your doctor to discuss colorectal cancer and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.
To schedule a screening colonoscopy, get more information, or to schedule a consultation with one our expert physicians, contact Digestive Health Centers of Dallas today!