Chadwick Boseman’s Death Brings to Light the Rising Numbers of Colon Cancer in Younger People


On August 28, 2020, the world was shocked by the news of American actor Chadwick Boseman’s death. Not only was the public unaware of his four-year battle with colon cancer, but the Black Panther star also passed at quite the young age of 43.

Boseman’s family revealed in a statement that the actor, who famously played T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and it eventually progressed to stage IV. That he was diagnosed at such an early age came as a startling surprise to many. But the troubling truth is that colon cancer in younger people is not rare.

According to the American Cancer Society, the third most common cancer in the United States is colorectal cancer, of which colon cancer is included. The ACS also states that though cases of colorectal cancer among those aged 65 and older are going down, the rate is going up among younger people. It is estimated that around 12 percent of the cases that will be diagnosed this year will be in people below 50 years of age.

While Boseman’s death is only now making many young people think about colon cancer, the rates of cases in adults below 50 have been going up since the mid-1980s. Even more disturbing is that it is the younger age groups that have been rising the quickest. In fact, a study published in 2017 revealed that people under 55 years of age have a 58 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer.

One explanation for these numbers is that younger adults would typically delay getting their symptoms checked since they would not normally be concerned about cancer. Many of the early signs of the disease may be mistaken for other less severe gastrointestinal problems. Among these symptoms are gas, stomach pain, and irregular bowel movements. Because these may be associated with minor issues, they may be overlooked by younger people who would put off getting their symptoms checked.

Some of the factors that affect a person’s risk of getting colon cancer include smoking, type 2 diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, a diet that includes a lot of red meats or processed meats, and a history of colorectal polyps or cancer in the family. However, it is not yet clear what factors exactly are causing the numbers to rise among younger adults.

Race is also a factor when it comes to the numbers. The ACS revealed that the lowest survival rate of colon cancer is seen in African Americans when compared to other racial or ethnic groups in the United States. Inadequate access to health care may be one of the reasons that the disease is often diagnosed at a later stage in this minority group.

When discovered in the early stages, the survival rate of colon cancer is a good 90 percent, so it is of great importance that the disease is detected early on. Even younger people should be aware of what symptoms to watch out for. These include changes in bowel movement lasting for more than just a few days, rectal bleeding, not feeling relieved even after a bowel movement, stomach pain or cramps, dark or bloody stools, unintended weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.

In addition, those with an average risk of colon cancer are advised by the ARC to start getting screened at the age of 45. On the other hand, those with a higher risk or a family history should get screened earlier. If colorectal polyps are detected and removed early, there is a great chance that cancer would be prevented.

With the alarming rise of colon cancer in younger patients, it is crucial to be aware of the signs to watch out for and to see a doctor right away if something doesn’t seem right.