News about the death of “Black Panther” star and Anderson native Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer ripped across South Carolina over the weekend.
And as shocking as the news was, his death at age 43 from a disease typically associated with older people was just as stunning.
“I heard about it Friday night and it really shook me … even though I personally don’t know him or never met him. I’ve only seen films he’s been in,” said Dr. Cedrek McFadden, a colorectal surgeon with Prisma Health in Greenville.
“But we’re both young African American males. He’s 43, and I’ll be 42 in a few weeks. And he’s from the same space, just 30 minutes away,” he told The Greenville Journal.
“It was very sad and shocking.”
Boseman died of colon cancer last Friday, according to a family statement released on his Twitter account. He’d been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, enduring countless surgeries and chemotherapy along the way, the statement read.
— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) August 29, 2020
Besides the Black Panther, the T.L. Hanna High School graduate had portrayed such iconic figures as Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall in previous films, according to the Associated Press.
His death at such a young age stunned many. But while the incidence of colon cancer does in fact increase with age, it’s rising among people younger than 50, according to the American Cancer Society.
And although the death rate overall has been dropping in recent years – probably due to screening and better treatments – deaths among people younger than 55 have been increasing, the society reports.
“Many people still believe that it’s a disease that only affects older people,” McFadden said. “But data has been showing us that it’s increasing … in people under the age of 50 at about 2% a year.”
Current guidelines call for colonoscopy screening to begin at age 45.
But Tom Bates of Greenville, who lost his daughter, Lindsey Bates Motley, to colon cancer at the age of 29, said that given her death and the news about Boseman, insurers may need to cover screening tests for younger people.
“It is encouraging that health insurance carriers now have lowered colonoscopies being a covered procedure from 50 to 45,” he said, “but even lower is sounding like it would be more appropriate.”
Until that happens, McFadden said people should pay attention to their family history, along with symptoms and other risk factors, such as race.
“We know that African Americans have a 20% higher risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and a higher risk of dying,” he said. “We’re talking about a 40% higher mortality.”
Aside from genetics, that mortality rate could be caused by barriers to quality health care, including unconscious or conscious bias, he said.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, a change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue or loss of energy, he said, adding that anyone with these symptoms should consult a health care provider.
“In many patients under the age of 50, they had symptoms that had been ignored,” McFadden said. “We have to pay attention to the signs and symptoms, know our family history and go for prevention. Having these conversations encourages us all to pay attention.”
Colorectal cancer is the third most common malignancy in the United States, except for skin cancers.
About 147,950 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with the disease this year, and about 53,200 people are expected to die from it.
Your lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 23 for men and one in 25 for women.
The five-year survival rate for colon cancer is 63%, and there are now more than 1.5 million survivors in the U.S.
Risk factors include a family history of the disease, being 50 or older, being African American or of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, smoking, alcohol use, obesity, physical inactivity, type 2 diabetes and diets high in red meat.
Source: American Cancer Society