SEATTLE — The death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman has shined a light on the disease he died from and its effect on Black men.
According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer death rates among Black people are almost 40% higher than White people. This means one in 46 Black males will die from colon cancer compared to one in 55 white males.
So, when the world found out Boseman died of colon cancer at the age of 43, the questions poured in about who’s most at risk of developing this specific form of cancer.
“It is still true – we do know that the majority of patients, patients that develop colorectal cancer, are over the age of 50, but we are increasingly seeing colon cancer rates in the younger population," said Dr. Mukta Krane, section chief of colorectal surgery at UW Medicine.
Boseman’s death reflects not only a rise of colon cancer in young people, but also reignites conversations about racial inequities in screenings.
“There is certainly structural barriers that have limited access to African Americans in a very systemic way throughout historical context where that has led to systemic disadvantage that decreases the likelihood that Black people will have access to all those things that I mentioned,” said Dr. Rachel Issaka during a Facebook discussion hosted by the National Medical Association about colon cancer.
Krane says equity in health can increase screenings and create more awareness about when to see a doctor.
"The warning signs that people should be looking out for are predominantly rectal bleeding, a change in that caliber, so usually a thinning of this tool, and then a change in bowel habits,” said Krane.
While the world grapples with losing a superhero, medical professionals hope the news will put pressure on the health care system to address disparities across the board.