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Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman's death 'sheds light' on importance of colon cancer screening, Texas doctor says

Boseman was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to Stage IV, according to his Twitter account.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: The video published above is an interview KVUE conducted with Dr. Thiru Lakshman, a colorectal surgeon at St. David's North Austin Medical Center, after this article was published. Dr. Lakshman is not the doctor referred to in the article below.

In a year full of headaches and heartbreaks, the death of Chadwick Boseman – who notably played the lead role in "Black Panther" – has shed new light on the importance of screening for colon cancer earlier than the recommended age of 45, according to a doctor at the University of Texas. 

UT Austin medical officials suggest Boseman's death "prompts a closer look at early-onset colorectal cancer." 

Livestrong Cancer Institutes medical oncologist Anna Capasso at UT's Dell Medical School said early-onset colorectal cancer has been increasing over the past few decades, according to recent research.

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Boseman died at 43 years old after battling colon cancer for four years. He was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to Stage IV, according to Boseman's Twitter account.  

“[Boseman’s passing] sheds light on the importance of starting screening earlier than the current recommendation of age 45 for some people with higher risk,” said Capasso, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Oncology at Dell Medical School at UT.

Capasso said colon cancer is "the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. for men and women combined, and although the overall incidence of colorectal cancer has gone down over the past decades, rates are rising among young people.”

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), cases of colorectal cancer have been rising by about 2% annually in people under age 50. 

“Unfortunately, the causes for early-onset colorectal cancer are yet to be clarified, but several studies are being conducted worldwide to better understand the reasons we are seeing an increase in the incidence among young people,” Capasso said.

ACS studies also showed that the disease disproportionately affects Black people, occurring nearly 20% more often than it does among white and 50% more than Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“Superheroes are people that fight every day for their lives and those of others, and Chadwick Boseman has been a powerful Black icon through his portrayal of Black Panther," Capasso said. "He was a superhero not only on the screen but also in his real life, and he truly represents those people who silently face these challenges every day.”

Here are some of the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer to look out for, according to the American Cancer Society

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Dark stools, or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

The post from Boseman's Twitter account announcing his death Friday became the most-liked tweet of all time in less than 24 hours. Flags were flown at half-staff Sunday in the actor's home state of South Carolina.

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