The death of beloved movie star Chadwick Boseman of colon cancer at age 43 shocked the world and left fans reeling. Known for his portrayal of characters that exude strength, calm and self-assurance, Boseman rose to prominence for his role as the first African superhero, King T'Challa, in the blockbuster Marvel film "Black Panther" and "Avengers" series. Despite his success and celebrity, fans were not aware of his private battle with colorectal cancer. Diagnosed with stage 3-colon cancer in 2016, the disease progressed to stage 4 within four years. He died in August 2020.
Mr. Boseman's stunning death draws attention to the fact that African Americans have the highest colorectal cancer rates, as well as the highest death rate and shortest survival of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. According to Meghan Gentile, PA-C, of Doylestown Health Colorectal Specialists, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to get colon cancer than any other ethnic group, and 40 percent more likely to die of the disease. African Americans are more likely to develop colorectal cancer at a younger age and are diagnosed with more advanced disease progression than other ethnic groups.
The Reasons for the Ethnic Disparity Are Complex
While differences in access to healthcare, cancer screening, lifestyle and other socioeconomic reasons may factor into the high incidence and mortality rates of colorectal cancer among Black Americans, Meghan explains that the data shows that genetics accounts for 35 percent of the overall risk. She adds, "little is known about the molecular mechanisms that account for this disparity." Recent studies have suggested that there may be a genetic predisposition for African Americans to develop colorectal cancers on the right side and that right-side cancer is associated with poorer health outcomes.
Meghan remarks that research is currently being done to understand the disparity better. "The literature until now didn't focus on African Americans specifically, and science is just now acknowledging how disproportionate the disease is," says Meghan.
The Importance of Colonoscopy for Black Americans
Meghan stresses that the most important thing that people of color can do to protect themselves is to have regular colonoscopy screening. While gastroenterology societies may differ in their recommendations for when a person should have a baseline colonoscopy — alternating between ages 45 and 50 — Doylestown Health Colorectal Specialists is decisive in its recommendation that their African American patients receive a baseline screening at age 45. Meghan stresses that most insurance companies recognize the importance of earlier screening; however, patients should check with their insurance company regarding coverage.
Preventing Colorectal Cancer
The following are Meghan's recommendations for all Americans, particularly African Americans, who are less likely to live five or more years after a colorectal cancer diagnosis than other ethnic groups.
Regular Physical Exercise
According to Meghan, studies show a twenty-seven percent reduction in colorectal cancer among active groups vs. inactive groups. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services defines this as 2.5 to 5 hours a week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity and muscle-strengthening activities.
A Diet High in Fruits and Non-Starchy Vegetables
Fruits such as apples, blackberries, bananas, blueberries, oranges, pear and raspberries are rich in antioxidants and fiber that protects against digestive problems. Non-starchy vegetables, including lettuce, kale, cucumbers, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, okra and spinach, should make up two-thirds of one's diet.
Studies show that 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber daily are associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Americans consume on average of 15 grams of fiber daily. Doylestown Health Colorectal Specialists recommend that everyone take a daily fiber supplement.
Stop Smoking TODAY!
Inhaling the chemicals and toxins activates free radicals that damage DNA and mutate healthy cells. Free radicals can cause the development of precancerous polyps in the large intestine, becoming cancerous and eventually causing colon cancer.
About Doylestown Health Colorectal
Doylestown Health Colorectal Specialists provide expert assessment, diagnosis, and treatment for a wide range of disorders of the colon, rectum, anus and small intestine. Our board-certified physicians offer compassionate, personalized care, continuing patient education and state-of-the-art technology, using advanced colon and rectal surgery and minimally invasive robotic surgery techniques.