Actor Chadwick Boseman, who played the regal King T’Challa in “Black Panther,” died of colon cancer Friday, August 28. Boseman was 43 years old. His family said he had been diagnosed in 2016, and was undergoing chemotherapy and surgery while still working on films.
Colorectal cancer is the third deadliest cancer among men and women in the United States. Doctors are seeing colon cancer rates rising in young people.
“Screening for colorectal cancer used to begin at age 50, but it has recently been recommended to start at age 45,” says Jan Rakinic, MD, professor of surgery at SIU Medicine. “That’s due in part to an increase in colorectal cancers in people younger than 45. Some medical organizations even advocate for screening to start at 40.”
African-Americans have a higher risk for colorectal cancer and death, Rakinic says. “Whether there is a cellular cause, or it’s due to healthcare disparities that we know exist is not clear. What IS clear is that all Americans should have colorectal cancer screening by age 45; or sooner if their close family members have been diagnosed with colorectal cancers or polyps.”
Be aware of the disease’s risk factors and symptoms, because if caught early, colon cancer is treatable and has a high survivability rate.
Risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Age over 50
- Polyps (growths in colon or rectum)
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Genetic alterations
- Heavy alcohol use
- Diet high in processed and or red meats
If you have any of these risk factors, you should get screened.
Consult a physician if you experience these symptoms:
- Diarrhea or constipation that persists for one week or more
- Feeling bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Finding blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
- Finding your stool narrower than usual
- Frequent gas pains, cramps or bloating
- Losing weight for no reason
- Feeling tired all the time
- Nausea or vomiting
Here are 10 tips to help prevent colon cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day.
- Quit smoking now.
- Limit red meat in your diet. Avoid processed meats, too.
- Limit alcohol. Men: 2 drinks a day; women: 1 drink a day.
- Increase fiber intake. Eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day along with whole grains.
- Check your stool for blood yearly after the age of 50.
- Get a colonoscopy every 10 years after age 45 or a sigmoidoscopy every 5 years.
- Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep at night.
- Get screened. Screenings are the first step to ward off colon cancer. And a colonoscopy is the best method to detect colorectal cancer.
Rakinic says, “A colonoscopy is the gold standard for screening because it’s the only method that also allows for removal of polyps, which are the precursor to cancer.”
If you are experiencing symptoms such as those mentioned above, meet with your physician, who can help arrange evaluation by a specialist.
“It’s important to remember that getting a diagnosis of colorectal cancer is not a death sentence,” Rakinic says. “The overwhelming majority of colorectal cancers are treatable, and curable if found early enough.”
So stay active, eat a healthy diet, and get screened!