On Friday, August 28, 2020 actor Chadwick Boseman, most known for his trailblazing role as King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), passed away after a private four-year battle with colon cancer. Diagnosed in 2016 at stage III, Boseman’s cancer progressed to stage IV before his passing at age 43.
The incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) is higher among African Americans than any other population group in the United States, according to the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. Not only is it higher in the African American community, but research also shows that African Americans are being diagnosed at a younger average age than other people. Because of this, experts suggest that African Americans begin their colorectal cancer screenings at age 45.
According to Fight CRC’s early-age onset workgroup of leading experts, recent studies show that “compared with adults born circa 1950, those born circa 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer.”1
Additionally, younger patients are often diagnosed at a later stage, when the disease is more challenging to treat, due to delays in seeking medical care and being misdiagnosed. As a result of the rise in the number of new CRC cases among adults under 50 years old since the mid-1990s, the American Cancer Society has lowered the recommended screening age to 45.
The National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that 1 in 41 Black males will die from colorectal cancer, compared to 1 in 48 White males. The risk is similar for women: 1 in 44 Black females will die from colorectal cancer, compared to 1 in 53 White females.
Fight CRC and our community of advocates are deeply saddened by the loss of Chadwick Boseman, a hero to many on and off the big screen. Fight CRC talked to community leaders, survivors, and caregivers to share their statements in honor of Chadwick.
Durado Brooks, MD, MPH, Vice President, Prevention & Early Detection of the American Cancer Society
“I was shocked and immensely saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Boseman; my heart goes out to his family, friends, and loved ones. America has lost a true cultural icon. Sadly, he is but one of the nearly 50,000 Americans who will lose their life to colorectal cancer this year, as well as one of the growing number of people dying from the disease at an exceptionally young age. African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with and to die from colorectal cancer (as is the case with several other cancers). This situation is even more tragic when you realize that widely available screening tests could prevent many of these cancers. Screening can find cancers earlier when treatment is more effective. As our collective sadness moves us to action, we must take this moment to break the silence around colorectal cancer, to talk openly and honestly with our family and friends about the importance of getting screened, and to share our personal stories.
-If you are 45 or older – get screened!
-If you are younger than 45 but have a known or suspected family history of the disease, talk to your doctor to find out if you need to start screening earlier.
-If you have symptoms (blood in your stool, unexpected weight loss, abdominal pain, or change in bowel habits lasting more than a few days), contact your doctor immediately.
Remember – polyps and early colorectal cancer usually have no symptoms, so it’s important to get tested even if you are feeling fine.
Chadwick Boseman inspired many as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and of course, T’Challa. Now we know that our greatest inspiration was Chadwick himself — a man fighting his own private battles, but bringing his light to shine for all of us every day.
Rest in Power.”
Darrell Gray, II, MD, MPH, FACG
“As a young black male, husband, father, and physician who has dedicated his career to beating colorectal cancer and addressing disparities in the cancer care continuum, my heart absolutely breaks for the family and loved ones of Chadwick Boseman. The death of our brother Chadwick, one who has been a superhero for many and our “Black Panther,” demonstrates that even superheroes are not immune to cancer.
I join many clinicians and advocates across the world in a call-to-action in growing awareness of colon cancer, the signs and symptoms of colon cancer that should not be ignored, colon cancer prevention, and screening strategies, and the dire importance of knowing and sharing your family medical history. Let us not let Chadwick’s death and the death of far too many African American men from colon cancer be in vain.”
Lisa Richardson, CDC, DDNID, NCCDPHP, DCPC
Only 2 in 3 adults in the U.S. are up to date with their colorectal cancer screening. While regular screening is recommended starting at age 50 some people may need to be screened earlier if there is a family history or a chronic condition like inflammatory bowel disease or some genetic syndromes. It’s important to understand that colorectal cancer screening is a process and it may look different for everyone. Speak with your provider to see if you are at higher risk to determine what colorectal cancer screening plan is best for you. There are several test options available that can be done at home or in a clinic. Rates of new colorectal cancers are higher in African Americans than in Whites for both men and women. While rates of new cases are declining, we still see gaps between racial and ethnic groups.
Tamara Shaw, Caregiver, Fight CRC Ambassador
The loss of Chadwick Boseman was so devastating to hear. It hit home because he passed from the same stage IV cancer my twin sister also succumbed to. Unbeknownst to the world, he was fighting for his life since being diagnosed in 2016 but still giving us entertaining movies and inspirational speeches. He means so much to the black community because he was strong, determined, and purpose-driven on and off-screen. His Black Panther role unified the black community and made us feel proud, empowered, and motivated to become anything we put our minds to. I pray that my African American people now realize that this cancer can also affect us and that age and race are no longer factors. We must get screened to save our lives and the lives of others. Diabetes and Hypertension are already silent killers among African Americans, so we can not let colon cancer be added to that list.
Fola May, MD PhD
“This week we lost another hero–a literal superhero. A man who was diagnosed with colon cancer at an unimaginably young age and who fought this disease with all his will for four years. In that time, he made movies for us, he spoke powerfully about being Black in film, he starred in roles to immortalize other Black historical leaders…he championed his Blackness.
To know that for much of this time he was battling a horrible disease is devastating. That he was able to keep secret what would have paralyzed any of us is a testament to his strength and motivation to continue to inspire us.
He will always be our King T’Challa. Wakanda forever!”
Kim Houston, stage III survivor, Fight CRC Ambassador
“My heart is heavy, as we learn of yet another warrior who has lost his battle with colorectal cancer. Chadwick Boseman earned his wings, fighting the good fight, all while working to bring the rest of us a little joy through his craft. For this, I am grateful.
Colorectal cancer does not discriminate; that’s why it’s important to listen to your body and get screened. Colon cancer is preventable, treatable, and, most importantly, beatable! Look at me, at the age of 45; I was misdiagnosed two times. I had to take my health care into my own hands by advocating for myself, first by seeking a different opinion from other doctors within the gastrointestinal community.
Rodrick Samuels, relentless champion & co-owner of Hair Lab Detroit The Salon
“With the passing away of Chadwick Boseman, it really hit home for me. I am a 43-year-old African American man. Colon cancer is deadly, but beatable if detected early. At this moment, we should have a movement for screenings and awareness about colon cancer. Amplified awareness and advocacy in the African American community is not an option; it is a must. Prayer and blessings to the Boseman family.”
Rissa Dodson, Stage III Survivor, Fight CRC Ambassador
“In the wake of Chadwick Boseman’s death from colon cancer, please get screened, get tested! Know your family’s medical history, know your body! I had blood in my stool. My doctor told me that it was probably hemorrhoids; I ignored it. A year later, I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer.
Had I known my family history, I would have been screened earlier and had polyps removed. GET CHECKED! Talk to your doctor! Colon cancer IS treatable if detected early. I implore you – GET CHECKED.”
Rachel Issaka, MD, MAS
“Chadwick Boseman personified what it meant to be young, Black, and gifted. He magnificently told the stories of legends and superheroes — Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and King T’Challa in “Black Panther” — even while battling advanced-stage cancer. His death is a reminder of colorectal cancer’s impact in America, especially among Black Americans. Colorectal cancer can happen to anyone at any time. But regardless of age, Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with and die from colorectal cancer than any other group. Even in the midst of COVID-19, colorectal cancer screening should not be ignored! If you’re experiencing rectal bleeding, changes in your stool, rectal pain, or unexplained weight loss, talk to your doctor about colorectal cancer screening. If you’re 45 years or older, especially if you’re Black, begin to ask about screening. Finally, Americans should normalize discussing our family’s medical histories. These conversations can help save lives.”
Anjee Davis, MPPA, President of Fight Colorectal Cancer
“This picture on the surface is simply a group of cancer advocates on a stage. It may only look like a picture with a group of friends. For me, and for many other advocates who have been searching for people who look like them and who have faced colorectal cancer as they have, this picture is a powerful moment. It captures the beauty of unity, of advocates from all walks, who are Black and Brown representing their culture, their race, and their fight.
The movie Black Panther had just come out. Moments after this picture, I remember hearing the group joyously saying, “Wakanda Forever,” out of pride and a sense of community. This picture shows that diversity within our community is celebrated and that our stories are powerful, and they need to be told.”
If you are 45 years and older, or you are younger but have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, find out what your screening options are now!