Chadwick Boseman, the actor who portrayed The Black Panther in the Marvel movies, has passed away, aged 43. He was diagnosed with Grade III colon cancer in 2016, which over the years progressed to stage IV colon cancer and eventually claimed his life. He passed away at his home, surrounded by his wife and family. His passing came as a shock to all his fans who were unaware of his cancer diagnosis.
His passing was confirmed by his family through his Instagram page. They released a statement saying, ‘t is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman. A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther’.
He played the role of Black Panther in the movie titled The Black Panther and in other marvel movies Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Black Panther had a global impact and was a cultural milestone for having a Black director and mostly, a Black cast as well.
Boseman also played many real-life historical figures in his movies, like Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get on Up, and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and he performed them with grace and class, unlike any other.
Since 2016, he had been undergoing chemotherapy and surgical treatments for cancer, all the while also delivering these widely-popular performances. His fans raised concerns for his health last year when he lost a significant amount of weight, and looked generally fatigued. Many blamed it on him being overworked since he mostly acted in action films. However, no one was aware of his 4-year long fight with colon cancer.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a cancer of the intestine and the third leading cause of cancer worldwide. Although the average age of onset for colon cancer is 66 years, recently more young people have been diagnosed with it.
A report published by Rebecca Siegel, the scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, claims that the median age of onset has gone below 50 recently. She also pushes for a better approach to colon cancer in younger individuals, as the diagnosis comes with more challenges that weren’t present before.
The American Cancer Society recommends regular screenings for colon cancer to begin from the age of 45, however, other health organizations recommend screenings from the age of 50.
Why is the age of onset decreasing
In 1989, the median age of colon cancer was 72. Then in 2016, it dropped to 66, and now it has finally dropped below 50 years.
In the report, Siegel investigates the cause of this sudden decrease. The data analyzed included cancer cases and deaths, obtained from the National Cancer Institute, US Center for Disease Control. After careful analysis, the authors concluded that the obesity epidemic currently plaguing the US is to blame, although partly, for the decreased median age. In fact, thousands of colon cancer diagnoses are related to a poor diet.
‘Diet has a large influence on colorectal cancer risk and there is a lot of research going on looking at how different things we consume, including drugs such as antibiotics, influence gut health, specifically their role in determining the microorganisms that make up our microbiome’, she said in the report.
Siegel’s study found that race and geographical locations of individuals also played a significant role in the early development of colon cancer and early age of onset. Furthermore, the study found decreased cases of colon cancer in older individuals, but that is because of regular screening.
Therefore, Siegel aims to use this analysis and report as a consensus that the screening age should be reduced further. She also said,’”In addition, this should be a wake-up call for clinicians to be better about the timely follow-up of younger patients who present with symptoms’. The study urges clinicians to follow up with younger patients to make an early diagnosis.
It is important to follow-up and checks for cancer in these patients, despite their young age. Siegel is right in urging the clinicians as new research to be presented at American Association for Cancer Research found that almost all younger individuals had to visit two different doctors for the colon cancer diagnosis to be made.
In the case of Kim Newcomer, one of the subjects in the research, she had a positive family history for colon cancer and the symptoms for it. But due to her young age, her doctors didn’t feel the need to even check her for cancer. She kept changing doctors as she was sure she had cancer. After seeing her father go through it, she was quite well aware of colon cancer and its symptoms.
It wasn’t until cancer had metastasized to her breasts and lungs that she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. This diagnosis was made 11 months after she first visited the doctor’s office for cancer-related symptoms.
This new research by Dr. Ronit Yarden depended on self-reported surveys and found that 71% of younger individuals were diagnosed with colon cancer when it had already reached stage 3 or 4. This indicates that milder symptoms of cancer are being neglected in the younger population, solely based on their age and timely diagnosis is not being made.
Furthermore, late diagnosis as seen with many young patients can result in more complications and a decreased quality of life even if they are fully cured. For example, Newcomer has been in remission since 2012 but still has side-effects of cancer and the treatments.
“I still have long-term effects. So I have a hard time walking; I have a hard time with neuropathy with my hands and feet. I have zero sexual function due to radiation and chemotherapy treatments’, she said, talking about her life after being cancer-free.
Many oncology specialists recommend younger individuals to advocate for themselves. If anyone thinks they are experiencing symptoms of colon cancer, they should see their physician immediately. And if the patient isn’t satisfied with the results, the patient has a right to second opinion.
It is important that further evaluations take place and investigate this decrease in median age. Especially so that screening age can be decreased to even below 50, and timely diagnosis of colon cancer and accurate treatment can be done.