Colon cancer having increased effect on young people, African-Americans

NEW BERN, N.C. (WITN) – The entertainment world was shaken late Friday night by the death of 43-year old Chadwick Boseman.

Perhaps even more shocking than his passing itself, was learning about the famed actor’s secret battle.

“I was even more shocked when I found out the cause of his death was colon cancer, and that he lived with it for four years and none of us knew about it,” says Dr. Fola May with UCLA Health.

Boseman was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer at the age of 39– an increasing trend according May.

“Because we associate this with a disease of the elderly, we’re just not looking and anticipating it in our younger patients,” May adds.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women in the United States.

Which is why catching the disease early, is critical to survival.

“If we are able to diagnose your colon cancer early, so that’s stage one disease, your likelihood of survival is over 90%,” says May.

Those chances of survival decrease all to way 11% once a patient reaches stage four.

But it’s not just younger men and woman that are becoming more susceptible.

African-Americans are 20% more likely to get colon cancer, and 40% more likely to die from the disease.

“There are patient factors, there are provider factors, there are problems with our healthcare system,” May explains.

The disparity is part of larger systemic inequalities for African-Americans and healthcare.

“I think mainly it’s health and equity. Unfortunately we’re seeing it with COVID-19 right? It’s disproportionately affecting black and brown communities,” says Michael Sapienza, the CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

For advocate groups like theirs, awareness all comes down to one thing.

“Number one it’s stigma. They say, ‘oh I had stomach cancer,’ or ‘I had some cancer down here.’ They don’t even want to say colon, they don’t want to say rectal,” Sapienza explains.

The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is the largest non-profit of it’s kind in the country.

They, combined with other colorectal non-profits, average about $20 million in funding annually, compared to the more than $450 million in funding for breast cancer.

And though Boseman, like many, lived his fight in private, advocates hope his legacy will have a life-saving impact.

Doctors say anyone with a family history of colon cancer should be checked 10 years prior to their most recent family member’s diagnosis age.

They also say that anyone near the age of 50, or experiencing symptoms at any age should be checked as well.

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