Doctors hope Chadwick Boseman's death will lead to more colonoscopies

Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Rate of young adults with colon cancer rising, doctors say
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Many people think of colon cancer as only striking older adults, but unfortunately the number of young adults affected is going up.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Fans all over the world are mourning the loss of actor Chadwick Boseman. Many are also shocked to learn he died from colon cancer at age 43.

He was reportedly diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at age 39, which is before the recommended age for traditional screening. We don't know about this family history, but we do know the rate of young adults with colon cancer is going up.

Like so many, Dr. Delana Wardlaw with Temple Physicians was stunned to hear the inspirational actor died of colon cancer. She hopes others will honor Boseman's memory by getting screened for the deadly disease.

"He was such an inspiration and showed such courage, battling cancers while continuing to make movies. We can honor his memory and make sure we get colonoscopies done," she said.

The majority of cases are in adults older than 55, but the Colon Cancer Alliance estimates 11% are in people under the age of 50.

That's why the American Cancer Society now recommends screening starting at age 45, instead of 50 for most people - that includes African Americans who are at a higher risk of dying from the disease.

Dr. Wardlaw says the colonoscopy is the gold standard because it can prevent cancer by removing polyps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have had precautions in place to keep patients safe.

"We need to get back on track, we need to learn to live in this pandemic. That is not a reason to not have colonoscopy done," she said.

And if you are younger than the recommended age, but you notice symptoms such as abdominal cramps or bloating, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite or blood in stools, you need to talk with your healthcare provider about testing.

"These are symptoms people are hesitant to discuss but I tell people all the time, you have to let your doctor know. If your doctor doesn't know, they can't address things in a timely manner," said Dr. Wardlaw.

It's also vital to know your family history. If you have colon cancer in your family, you may need to start screening earlier.

If you have a first degree relative, it's recommended to do a colonoscopy 10 years before the age they were diagnosed. For example, if your dad was diagnosed at age 50, you'd start screening at age 40.