Chadwick Boseman’s death has doctors pushing younger adults to get screened for colon cancer

The disease hits the Ohio Valley region particularly hard, a UofL professor of colon and rectal surgery says.
Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 9:55 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - He became a cultural icon attracting millions of fans worldwide in the movie Black Panther, but his role as the rightful king of Wakanda came to an end Friday. Actor Chadwick Boseman, 43, died after a four-year battle with colon cancer.

Seeming young and strong on the big screen, Boseman’s sudden death stunned fans who learned the man playing one of their new favorite superheroes had been battling the disease since 2016.

“Chadwick Boseman and his death can be a further galvanizing moment behind the treatment of this disease,” Dr. Russ Farmer, a University of Louisville Associate professor of colon and rectal surgery, said.

Farmer says his shocking death highlights the need for screenings, especially among younger adults.

“The biggest problem we see is that people are getting diagnosed late because they either didn’t speak to their physician or were too afraid to speak to their physician about something that they noticed,” he explained.

The scary reality, Farmer explained, is that fewer elderly people are being diagnosed with colon cancer, and it is actually being caught more often in millennials and younger adults.

“The data about young people with colorectal cancer over the past five years has become extraordinarily convincing,” Farmer said. “If you were born after 1990, your risk of developing colon and rectal cancer is roughly 6 times what it would be for your parents.”

The reason has yet to be determined, which Farmer says worries researchers like himself.

“That is the frightening part,” he said, “we have no idea [why].”

The disease also hits the Ohio Valley region hard.

“You know, thousands of cases in this region a year,” Farmer said.

The UofL professor also stressed that death rates from the disease are high among African Americans.

“I believe it has significantly to do with access to care and lack of access to care in African American communities,” he explained.

Farmer urges people to talk to a doctor if symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, changes in bowel movements, or bloody bowel movements occur. Colon cancer screenings are conducted very simply at doctor’s offices or with at-home testing kits.

He stresses that if colon cancer is caught early, it is highly treatable.

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