Chadwick Boseman, the actor best known for playing the lead role in Black Panther, has tragically passed away at the age of 43.
Boseman was privately battling colon cancer for four years – and along with many other cancers, it’s one many know little about.
In the wake of this tragedy in which cancer takes another person who is far too young – not to mention one with such a powerful and influential presence in modern culture – it’s worth zeroing in on the disease he battled with for just a moment.
Colon cancer begins in the large intestine, AKA the colon. The large intestine/colon is the final part of the digestive tract.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of colon cancer include:
Colon cancer usually affects older adults, but it can develop within a person of any age. It typically starts when small, benign clumps of cells called polyps form inside of the colon. With time, these polyps can turn into colon cancers.
Colon cancer can be hard to detect because patients may not notice the polyps or symptoms until the cancer has already developed. Therefore, experts recommend people get regular screenings beginning at the age of 50.
However, looking at Boseman’s case (and many other folks in the world), it would be wise to start screening earlier, just in case.
Your doctor may also suggest more frequent or earlier screening if you have other risk factors, including:
Older age. Colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but a majority of people with colon cancer are older than 50. The rates of colon cancer in people younger than 50 have been increasing, but doctors aren’t sure why.
African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps. If you’ve already had colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk. Some gene mutations passed through generations of your family can increase your risk of colon cancer significantly. Only a small percentage of colon cancers are linked to inherited genes. The most common inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, which is also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
Family history of colon cancer. You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories. Research in this area has had mixed results. Some studies have found an increased risk of colon cancer in people who eat diets high in red meat and processed meat.
A sedentary lifestyle. People who are inactive are more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
Diabetes. People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
Smoking. People who smoke may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
Alcohol. Heavy use of alcohol increases your risk of colon cancer.
Radiation therapy for cancer. Radiation therapy directed at the abdomen to treat previous cancers increases the risk of colon cancer.