Black people are 20 percent more likely to get colon cancer than any other race, according to the American Cancer Society, and are 40 percent more likely to die from it. Further, they are more likely to have an advanced stage of colon cancer when diagnosed and have a shorter life span after being diagnosed.
Additionally, according to a report, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, factors contributing to the disproportionately high rate of colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, in Black people include lower rates of screening, structural racism, social determinants of health and difficulty obtaining available treatment, among others.
Doctors said that more Black men in their practices are being screened for colon cancer since Boseman’s death. Still, there is no quantifiable data to discern whether Black men, overall, have increased screenings.
Boseman’s death highlighted that public health organizations recommend colon cancer screening at 45 years old instead of 50.
“And I think that was probably the No. 1 thing that came out of his death because a lot of patients did start asking specific questions like, ‘What do I need to look for as symptoms?’ So, awareness definitely increased, said Dr. Saundra Dalton Smith, an internal medicine physician in Alabama.”
However, the doctors said two prevailing factors have offset the influence of Boseman’s death: the coronavirus pandemic and the perceived invasive nature of colon cancer testing.
“I’ve seen a lot more people being screened since Covid restrictions were lifted,” said Dr. Timothy Quinn, a primary care physician in the Jackson, Mississippi, area. “But the pandemic changed a lot last year. A lot of people were skipping their doctor’s appointments, understandably afraid to come to the doctor because of factors like being around people in the waiting room. So that slowed down screenings, which never helps.”
Even if screenings increased among Black people, “we’re still on the low end of the spectrum in totality,” Dalton-Smith said. “Chadwick Boseman had this national profile. He was the Black Panther. He obviously raised awareness, but a lot of times in our community, we don’t want to get the screening for colon cancer because we start thinking about the whole invasiveness part of it when it doesn’t even have to be that.”
Men fret over the idea of having a colonoscopy — a procedure in which a long, flexible tube with a tiny video camera called a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum. The camera allows the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon.
Quinn went on to explain that there is an FDA-approved at-home colon cancer test kit, which uses a stool sample from the patient. The physician would order the kit sent to the patient’s home. The patient would provide the sample, package it and send the kit to a laboratory for testing.
“We’ve got to a place in medicine, where many of the cancers that used to kill people, can now be treated — if we catch it early enough,” she added. “The problem is, we still have double the death rate in the African American community. And a big part of that is because of not getting the preventative testing. That’s what, a year after losing Chadwick Boseman, we have to get out of.”