Death of ’Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman shines light on important of colon cancer screening

Actor's death sparks conversation on cancer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) -Unbeknownst to the public, the star of the Marvel film “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman, was fighting colorectal cancer off-screen while fighting Marvel villains on-screen.

Boseman died of cancer on Friday at 43-years-old following a four-year battle with the disease.

WBTV’s Steve Crump is fighting the same battle against colorectal cancer. Crump was diagnosed just over two years ago.

“I think, in many regards, he was a real-life super-hero,” Crump said. “To be able to contribute to the body of work that has helped define who he was as a human being, who he was as an actor, who he was as far as being dedicated to his craft and his profession, speaks volumes. And the fact again, that no one really knew on the outside is just mind-blowing.”

Raising awareness of colon cancer

Boseman was known for his portrayals of historic figures in the Civil Rights movement such as James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall before starring in the Marvel film “Black Panther.”

“You have these iconic people who were known for carrying out justice in that regard,” Crump said “Then comes this Marvel amazing film, I think it is the icing on the cake. Black Panther gave so many people of all generations something to be proud of. For them to say ’Wow, this clearly demonstrates the possible.”

While Boseman made an impression on young minds for his portrayals on screen, perhaps his most important role yet will come postmortem. His death by colon cancer raises awareness of the importance of getting checked.

“I think that it’s a wake-up call. And it’s not just a wake-up call for African Americans. It’s a wake-up call for everyone,” Crump said.

Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute’s Dr. Mohamed Salem says colon cancer is common. About 150,000 people are diagnosed with the disease each year and 53,000 people will die each year.

“No one should die from colon cancer with what we have in terms of screening and treatments available to us, no one should die from colon cancer if you catch cancer early; stage 1,” Dr. Salem said.

According to Dr. Salem, the cure rate for colon cancer is about 94 percent if caught in stage 1. He says the cure rate drops to less than 20 percent when it is diagnosed in stage 4.

Boseman was just 43-years-old when he died of colorectal cancer. Dr. Salem says in recent years, they’ve seen a drop in cases of colon cancer among the elderly.

“The sad part of the story if you will is that on the flip side we are seeing a very sharp rise, increase, in incidents of colorectal cancer among the younger population. And we’re talking age 20 to 49,” Dr. Salem said.

He says it is unclear why they are seeing an increase of cases in younger patients but the decline in cases among the elderly is likely due to screenings. It is recommended men and women get checked for colon cancer at age 45. People who have a history of colon cancer in their family may need to be screened earlier in life.

Dr. Salem says patients in the Black community are often diagnosed in later stages due to racial disparities in healthcare.

“For minority and African Americans, you don’t have access to screening, don’t have access to resources to get colonoscopy, a lot of gaps in education, so this results in African Americans to present with more advanced stage,” Dr. Salem said.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, and unexplained weight loss. Dr. Salem says about 86 percent of patients will experience some symptoms.

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