INDIANAPOLIS — The death of movie star Chadwick Boseman sent shock waves throughout the world.
Boseman was just 43 when he died of colon cancer, a disease that typically presents itself later in life.
Experts now say his death highlights the disturbing trend of colorectal cancer affecting younger people in their 40s, 30s even 20s.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be close to 150,000 new cases in 2020.
CDC guidelines for colorectal screening begin at age 50, as it typically presents itself in people older than 50. But in recent years that’s changed and doctors say they’re seeing a spike in cases of people younger than 50.
“I’ve been in practice at Indiana University for 20 years, and when I first started, my practice was filled with patients in their 60s and 70s. And my practice now is filled with patients that have colorectal cancer in their 20s 30s and 40s,” said Dr. Paul Helft with IU Health.
It’s unclear why more young people are getting sick However, there have been links made to rising rates in obesity and the effect of the modern diet on our microbiome, or colon bacteria.
One thing is also clear: African Americans are at an even higher risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer and succumbing to the disease. African Americans are 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and are also 40% more likely to die from it than other groups.
Helft says the increase can be, in part, attributed to increased poverty rates, lack of access to resources, as well as disparities in screening rates and assessment of family history.
Helft adds that rates of colorectal cancer deaths can be decreased, in part, by earlier screening.
“I think that the data suggests that a screening age of 45 is a reasonable idea across the nation,” he said.
Helft also says it’s crucial to pay attention and take action if any early symptoms present themselves.
“What I recommend to my patients is that symptoms be taken seriously. So if you have serious symptoms, the most common one would be rectal bleeding,” Helft said.
Some studies suggest that people may reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancer by increasing physical activity, limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding tobacco.