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The cancer that took Chadwick Boseman is growing in risk among younger adults

Experts warn that screening saves lives, but many cases in those under 50 are being found late

SHARE The cancer that took Chadwick Boseman is growing in risk among younger adults
Actor Chadwick Boseman is pictured in 2017 in Washington. The acclaimed actor died in August 2020 at age 43 of colon cancer,

In this Sept. 21, 2017, file photo, actor Chadwick Boseman appears at an interview for the film “Marshall,” in Washington. The acclaimed actor died in August 2020 at age 43 of colon cancer, after an illness that was largely kept secret. The number of cases of colon cancer for those under age 55 is on the rise.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

Colorectal cancer is being diagnosed more often among young- and middle-aged adults. And the cancer is often found at a more advanced stage.

A 2023 report on colorectal cancer says the share of colon cancer cases among patients under age 55 increased from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2022.

The world appeared shocked when actor Chadwick Boseman, 43, died in 2020 after battling colon cancer. But colorectal cancer is not a rare disease, contrary to what many people think. Actually, it is “the second-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women combined.” per the Mayo Clinic Health System.

Recent studies have shown us there is a developing colorectal cancer risk in people as young, or younger, than the late “Black Panther” star.

“Shockingly, 1 in 5 people who will be diagnosed presently are younger than 55 years of age, which is quite young for colorectal cancer,” said American Cancer Society CEO Dr. Karen Knudsen to CBS News.

The most recent colorectal cancer statistics, published by the American Cancer Society, said more than half of those diagnosed in 2019 were in the advanced stages before it was discovered. And the report predicts for 2023 that 34% of persons diagnosed will die, including 3,750 who are younger than 50.

Doctors continue to investigate what could be causing this shift to more advanced colorectal cancer at younger ages. The society’s report said discovering the source for this rapid shift in diagnosis among younger patients and encouraging quality screenings starting at the age of 45 could be key to changing the disease trajectory.

Dr. Arif Kamal, the chief patient officer for the American Cancer Society, told The Washington Post he sees a “clear relationship” between colonoscopy rates and whether the cancer is allowed to develop. “The screening is also the therapy. If we see a precancerous polyp, we remove it.”

Avoiding colorectal cancer

Although it is the third most common cancer in the United States, The Rosewell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center says “it is also one of the most preventable with screening.”

“... A colonoscopy is considered the ‘gold standard’ screening test for colorectal cancer as it can identify early-stage cancers and remove polyps,” according to Dr. Steven Nurkin, chief of colorectal surgery at the Rosewell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Among suggestions for reducing colon cancer risk:

  • Regular screenings, especially colonoscopies.
  • Stool-based tests.
  • Healthy diets low in red meat or processed meats.
  • Active lifestyles to increase overall health.
  • Knowing your personal and family medical history.

The center warns against smoking and high alcohol intake, which may lead to developing this disease. Nurkin said any rectal bleeding, longterm irregular bowel activity or history of colon cancer in your family should prompt you to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

“It’s important to be in tune with your body and recognize when things aren’t normal. Contact your primary care doctor for guidance and advice,” he said.