Let’s talk about what can be an uncomfortable subject for your patients: colon cancer. The world was deeply saddened when actor Chadwick Boseman passed away late last week after a long, private struggle with the disease. His fans weren’t aware of his condition, which only added to the shock of his death.
Boseman was best known for his title role in the 2018 film Black Panther, also known as T’Challa, King of the fictional African country of Wakanda. As the first black superhero, he was considered an inspiration to the African American community, and now his death has become a rallying cry for colon cancer awareness. He was just 43 when he died.
While many of your patients may think that colon cancer is something that only happens to old people, it’s one of the few conditions that’s becoming increasingly prevalent among young adults.
The Latest Stats on Colon Cancer
“There’s no such thing as too young.” That’s the motto of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, a non-profit that’s been tracking early onset colon cancer and how this has developed into a disturbing trend over the last few years. According to the CCA, 11% of colon cancer diagnoses and 18% of rectal cancer diagnoses occur in those under 50.
To get people’s attention, the group has been highlighting young people who have recovered from the disease, caretakers, and survivors. In a recent survey, they collected 1,622 responses from 1,195 patients/survivors and 427 caregivers across 38 countries. Their message: the U.S. and the world have a long way to go when it comes to treating and diagnosing colon cancer.
- 50% of doctors did not talk to the patient’s family about their elevated risk of the disease and the associated need for screening 10 years prior to the patient’s diagnosis.
- 60% of caregivers did not get all their questions answered at the time of the patient’s diagnosis and did not understand treatment options and risks.
- Just 25% of health care professionals provided information on organizations and support groups for young-onset colorectal cancer.
- Caregivers reported insufficient psychosocial support (66%), self-care resources (58%), and financial support (44%) to effectively care for their patients.
The Alliance would like to see the U.S. healthcare industry devote more resources to treating colon cancer, so primary care providers can refer their patients to specialists and encourage them to get screened early for the disease. Caregivers also need more support from providers if they are going to keep their loved ones safe and healthy at home.
When Should People Get Screened and What Are the Signs?
The American Cancer Society recently recommended that adults without a family history should begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45, particularly African Americans, who tend to suffer from higher rates of colon cancer.
There are a range of personal and external factors that can make your patients more susceptible to the disease. If the person has ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease, they should talk to their doctor about getting tested before the age of 45.
For individuals with a family history of colon cancer, they should get screened either at age 40 or 10 years before the age of the youngest family member who was diagnosed.
Anyone experiencing symptoms including the following should talk to their doctor as well:
- Abdominal pain, cramping, and constipation
- Change in bowel movements or having the urge to go to the bathroom that does not go away after doing so
- Rectal bleeding, dark stool, or blood in the stool
- Anemia or lasting fatigue
- Sudden weight loss
- Excessive gas
- Narrow stools
Providers often receive pushback from their patients when it comes to screening for colon cancer. It doesn’t usually receive as much attention as heart disease, diabetes, and other common chronic conditions. However, the passing of Chadwick Boseman could change this narrative by reminding young people that a strong, 43-year-old man, known for playing a superhero no less, can fall prey to this disease just as easily as someone in their 70s or 80s.
Talk to your patients about the risks of colon cancer and encourage them to sign up for a screening sooner rather than later. Visit the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website to donate, volunteer, and learn more about the latest trends in early onset colon cancer.
Let’s put an end to colon cancer as a way of honoring the late Chadwick Boseman.