Chadwick Boseman's death bringing attention to young colon cancer patients

Sep 1, 2020

The death of actor Chadwick Boseman last week from colon cancer at the age of 43 is focusing attention on the increasing number of younger victims of the disease.

The star of  "Marshall" was found to have Stage 3 colon cancer when he was 39. That is well below the recommended start of colonoscopies to look for the cancer.  The routine start age is 50. However, for Blacks and Latinos, the recommendation is to start at age 45 because the disease is more aggressive in people of color.

For reasons doctors don't understand, colon cancer is being found in younger and younger people. Dr. Abha Rani, a gastroenterologist mostly working out of St. Joseph Campus and Sisters Hospital, said a decade ago, a young person wouldn't have been considered for a colonoscopy, even with symptoms.

"Somebody came who was 20 or 30 year old and said they were having some rectal bleeding, we used to say, 'Well, it's probably hemorrhoids. We don't need a colonoscopy.' But as there's more and more colon cancer that we're seeing, even in patients who are younger, we are more likely to do a colonoscopy to make sure that we definitely are not missing a colorectal cancer," Rani said.

Rani said the advice on what age to start colonoscopies goes out the window if there is a family history. In those cases, that first internal exam should start at least a decade younger than the family member with the disease. So if that family member was diagnosed at 40, the relative should start at age 30.

Rani said the youngest person she treated for the disease was in his mid-twenties.