“With education and awareness to defeat the stigma, resources for those diagnosed, and innovative research toward cures, we can end colorectal cancer in our lifetime,” Michael Sapienza, CEO of Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in a statement.
Actor Chadwick Boseman’s recent death at the age of 43 from colon cancer has brought the topics of young-onset colorectal cancer and racial disparities in the disease to the forefront of the public eye.
Boseman, most famously known for his role as King T’Challa in “Black Panther” and his role in the “Avengers” series, died in August after being diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago.
“Chadwick was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and battled with it these last four years as it progressed to stage 4,” his family released in a statement at the time of his death.
While colorectal cancer affects mostly older individuals, the disease is increasingly impacting the younger patient population. People under the age of 50, according to the American Cancer Society, are expected to account for 12% of all cases in 2020 in the United States.
Rise of early-onset colorectal cancer
“Somberly, we share that young-onset colorectal cancer is on the rise and cuts short thousands of lives every year,” Michael Sapienza, CEO of Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in a statement to CURE®. “Colorectal cancer awareness is hampered by an intense stigma, particularly in the Black community.”
For Anjee Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer and a 43-year-old cancer survivor herself, the story of Boseman’s death hit close to home.
“It has touched thousands of colorectal cancer survivors across the country who are sharing their stories and calls to get screened online,” Davis said in a statement. “We have seen a shift. The faces of our community now include 20, 30, and 40-year-olds. The fact that early-age onset colorectal cancer has increased by 51%, according to the National Cancer Institute, is an alarming trend.”
Colorectal cancer’s affect on the Black community
Sapienza notes that colorectal cancer awareness is hampered by an intense stigma, particularly in the Black community.
“Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S. when men and women are combined, and it disproportionately affects our black and brown communities,” he said. “With education and awareness to defeat the stigma, resources for those diagnosed, and innovative research toward cures, we can end colorectal cancer in our lifetime.”
Davis mentioned that it was also important to point out that Black Americans are often diagnosed with colorectal cancer at earlier ages and are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced disease.
“As we mourn the loss of a real-life superhero, we are committed to raising awareness, sharing our stories, and educating families on the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer in his honor,” she said.
Encouraging open conversation
At the time of Boseman’s death, the news was a shock to many as his diagnosis and subsequent treatment were not made public.
Sapienza said that while the Colorectal Cancer Alliance respects everyone’s decision to keep their decision private, he said the Alliance encourages an open dialogue.
“Cancer is a personal battle, and we respect Boseman’s choice to shield the public from his diagnosis,” he said. “The Alliance, however, encourages open conversations about this disease. Even superheroes can develop colorectal cancer.”