GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The death of actor Chadwick Boseman has sent shock waves across the globe.
Not only because people were unaware that the "Black Panther" star was sick, but because he died so young of colon cancer. But rates of colon cancer are rising in young people.
“At our clinic we're seeing more 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, people with young children getting diagnosed with this scary disease," said Allina Medical Oncologist Dr. Neel Trivedi.
It used to be age 50 when you started to both screen and worry about the possibility of colon cancer, but Trivedi said there's been a shift.
“Typically, we thought it was fast food or bad diet that was causing it. It doesn't seem to be the case, so these are people who are marathon runners, people who are vegan, people who are eating healthy, doing all the right things, exercising, and still getting this at a very young age," said Dr. Trivedi.
While researchers work to figure out the why, we need to learn to change our behaviors.
“The American Cancer Society actually decreased, in their response to this, their recommended age of screening to 45. But again, that doesn't cover somebody who is 20 or 30 and getting the disease,” he said.
So, especially if you're young, pay attention to your body. Don't dismiss signs and symptoms, which include changes in your bowel habits. Anything that's persistent and doesn't go away, like blood in your stool, narrow pencil-thin stool, diarrhea, or constipation. Unexpected weight loss is another symptom. You should know that genetics play a role. A family history puts you at greater risk and the disease hits harder in communities of color.
“We know from large studies that African Americans tend to do worse with lots of different kinds of cancers and are at higher risk of getting it," Trivedi said. "What plays into that we're not sure. It could be genetics; it could be racial disparities in health care."
Screenings have been down during the pandemic, but putting off talking to your doctor for fear of COVID-19 is a mistake. If caught early, colon cancer can be treated, but too often people wait.
“Telehealth has honestly been a great resource during this time, so if you are concerned about symptoms, it's great just to set up a telehealth visit with your primary care doctor," said Dr. Trivedi. "They can kind of gauge whether this is something serious that needs to be checked on right away or whether you can wait."