With the world mourning the death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, experts warn about the rising rates of colon cancer in young people. After being diagnosed in 2016, Boseman quietly battled colon cancer until he passed away on August 28, 2020. He was 43 years old.
What Is Colon Cancer?
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the 3rd leading cause of cancer death. In the United States, it makes up 15% of cancer cases, and 5% of Americans will have it at some point in their lives.
But what exactly happens in the body of a person with colon cancer? Your colon is a 5-foot long organ in your digestive system. Its jobs include processing and removing nutrients and removing waste material through the rectal and anal canal.
It’s common for people to develop adenomatous polyps in their colon. These are tiny clumps of cells that begin as noncancerous or benign. In some people, these polyps turn cancerous over time.
Colon Cancer Rising in People Under 50
People usually consider colon cancer a disease that only affects older people. And while the majority of people who get colon cancer are over 50, this age group has had a decline in colorectal cancer because of increased screening.
Rates of colon cancer have increased in younger people, despite a modest 1% yearly decrease in overall cases. The increase in colorectal cancer rates in young people is concerning enough that researchers estimate that by 2030, 10% of people with colon cancers and 25% of people with rectal cancers will be under 50 years old.
With the rising rates of colon cancer, we’ll discuss how colon cancer affects young people, what they can do to prevent it, and influential individuals who have fought colon cancer.
3 Young Celebrities Who Fought Colon Cancer
Several young celebrities have battled colon cancer. Their diagnoses remind us how important it is to prevent colorectal cancer and catch it early.
Chadwick Boseman’s breakout role was iconic baseball player Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. But he was perhaps best known for his performance as T’Challa, a superhero, and king, in Black Panther.
Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. He privately fought it for four years with surgeries and chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, the cancer progressed to Stage 4, and Boseman passed away in August 2020 at 43.
Boseman’s fans were shocked to learn how long he had been unwell. He had filmed several movies during his struggle with cancer, including Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Boseman’s team called him a “true fighter.” It said, “Chadwick persevered through it all and brought you so many of the films you have come to love so much.”
Jamie Samuelsen, a longtime Detroit sportscaster, passed away from colon cancer on August 1, 2020. He was 48 years old. Samuelsen was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in January 2019, when he was 47.
Samuelsen was a fixture on the Detroit sports scene for 25 years. He was involved in sports commentary on the radio, television, and print. He shared his battle with colon cancer on the air for the first time on July 27, 2020, just a few days before he passed away. Bob Wojnowski, Samuelsen’s former co-host, said that he hadn’t wanted to go public with his diagnosis because he didn’t want to be treated differently.
Since he passed away, Samuelsen’s family has received thousands of messages from fans about their love for the radio host. His funeral was limited to friends and family because of COVID-19. Still, it was live-streamed across the country so others could attend virtually. Samuelsen’s family hopes to hold a more significant public celebration of his life in the future.
Darryl Strawberry was an MLB All-Star with the New York Mets and Yankees in the 1980s and ‘90s. He had to step away from baseball in 1998 when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 36. Two days after his diagnosis, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor and 24 inches of his colon.
Doctors discovered that cancer had spread to one of Strawberry’s lymph nodes during the surgery. He was treated with chemotherapy to keep the cancer from spreading more. The following year, Strawberry returned to baseball.
But 1999 would be Strawberry’s last year as a professional baseball player. Colon cancer had continued to spread throughout his body. He had surgery in 2000 to remove his kidney and a tumor from one of his lymph nodes.
In addition to colon cancer, Strawberry also overcame a long struggle with drug addiction. Today, he and his wife run recovery centers in Texas and Florida. He also established the Darryl Strawberry Foundation, which supports children with autism.
How Young People Can Prevent Colon Cancer
As rates of colon cancer in young people continue to rise, it’s essential to know how to prevent this disease. In addition to early testing, there are several ways you can avoid colorectal cancer or catch it in its early stages.
Understand the Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Because of its location in the digestive system, colon cancer has several uncomfortable and even painful symptoms. They include:
- Abdominal discomfort or pain
- Changes in bowel movement and/or stool consistency, including constipation, diarrhea, and thinning/narrowing stools
- Bloody stools or unusually dark, tar-like stool
- Appetite changes
- Unintended weight loss
There are many possible causes of digestive discomfort and abdominal pain that may not be cancer. If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss them and what your next steps should be.
Know Your Family History
Having a family history of colon cancer is one reason to get tested early. Typically, colonoscopies are recommended for colon cancer screening starting at age 45. But if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you may want to get screened as early as age 40. Talk to your doctor about any incidences of colon cancer in your family and ask when they recommend that you first get tested.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Like many other serious diseases, the best prevention for colon cancer is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In an interview with News WXYZ, Dr. Nandi said, “Family history and lifestyle are huge factors in your chances of developing colon cancer. Obesity, a poor diet, and lack of exercise put you at higher risk. But, it’s never too late to start taking better care of yourself.”
He continued, “Ditch the fast food and processed foods that cause inflammation in the gut and get more fiber from vegetables and fruits. Stay active and maintain a healthy weight. And again, get screened! Early detection of colorectal cancer makes a huge difference in the outcome. We have to eradicate this awful disease.”