Colorectal Cancer Coverage from Every Angle

Death of Young, Black Actor Highlights Unmet Needs in Colorectal Cancer Screening

By: Joseph Cupolo
Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Best known for starring in the movies 42 and Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman was 43 when he died on August 28 of stage 3 colon cancer, which was diagnosed in 2016. His death sheds a light on unmet needs in colorectal cancer screening: There are higher incidence rates of colorectal cancer in Black individuals than in non-Hispanic White individuals, and the number of colon cancer diagnoses is increasing in adults younger than age 40.

More specifically within the 4-year span from 2012 to 2016, the incidence rates of colorectal cancer in Black people were about 20% higher than those in non-Hispanic whites and 50% higher than those in Asian/Pacific Islanders. And, mortality rates were higher, too. In fact, colon cancer death rates in Black people are almost 40% higher than in non-Hispanic White people and double the rates for Asian/Pacific Islanders.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, colon cancer diagnoses were declining in age groups younger than 50, according to a 2017 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. However, that trend flipped in the mid-1980s, when rates declined in adults aged 55 and older, whereas they increased by 2.4% per year in adults aged 20 to 29 and by 1% per year in adults aged 30 to 39 years.

Chadwick Boseman may have left the world too soon, but he left behind a clear message for the oncology community: The time has come to screen younger adults, particularly Black men, at an earlier age for colorectal cancer. “Colorectal cancer is thought of as a disease for older individuals, and so the diagnosis may be missed for months or years in a younger person,” stated Stacey Cohen, MD, of the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, in an MSN Health news item. “Cancer is also difficult to detect at an early stage if a provider is not specifically evaluating for it.”

Although Mr. Boseman’s colorectal cancer was found too late, Trey Mancini is more fortunate. The 28-year-old outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles was diagnosed in March with a stage 3 malignant colon tumor. After surgery in March and beginning chemotherapy in April, Mr. Mancini is on the road to recovery. “Everybody’s always said that you don’t need colonoscopies until you’re 50 years old,” he told USA TODAY. “That’s clearly not the case. In hindsight, I wish I would have gotten screened at 25 or so.”

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