Austin surgeon says Chadwick Boseman’s death shines light on increased colon cancer rates in young people

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The death of Chadwick Boseman stunned millions of people, who knew him as the superhero he brilliantly played in the movie “Black Panther.”

But his family says since 2016, Boseman was fighting a battle with colon cancer, going through chemotherapy and surgery while still filming movies.

Boseman was only 43 when he died from the disease. Colorectal cancer is the third deadliest cancer among men and women in the United States.

Dr. Thiru Lakshman, a colorectal surgeon at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, says Boseman’s death affected him both professionally and personally. His young children love “Black Panther.”

“This hit me really hard, because I’m seeing it more and more myself, and it crystallized what’s going on in America,” he said.

Doctors say colon cancer rates are rising in young people.

“Significantly young, Chadwick was 43, but I’ve seen patients as young as 26, 31, 33 years old, and this correlates with some of the data we are seeing nationally too,” said Dr. Lakshman.

While data shows the majority of cases are found in older people, Dr. Lakshman says over the past few years, the highest increase in colon cancer cases is in patients under the age of 50, and race plays a role.

“Absolutely, it affects everyone, but clearly we know that race plays a detrimental role in colon cancer both in terms of screening and survival rates,” he said.

Dr. Lakshman says it may have to do with with a lack of health insurance or health screenings for colon cancer.

“The data suggests rates are higher among Black Americans, particularly Black males, and then when diagnosed their survival rates are significantly less as well,” he explained.

Dr. Lakshman says early detection is key.

“If colon cancer is found early—stage 1 or stage 2 disease—we consider it almost fully curable with 85 to 95% cure rates,” he said.

He suggests a person with an average risk of colon cancer to get a screening at the age of 45 or younger, if there is a family history. Symptoms to look out for include bloody stool or bleeding from the rectum.

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