Chadwick Boseman's death brings awareness to importance of early colon cancer screenings

The death of Chadwick Boseman is bringing attention to the second deadliest cancer in the U.S., a disease that disproportionately affects people of color.
Colon cancer, the disease that took Chadwick Boseman's life, is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S.

People of color are at a higher risk and cases for those 55 and under are on the rise.

Risk factors include being sedentary, obesity and a poor diet. Younger colon cancer patients often have to seek out several doctors before getting the right diagnosis.

On a run with his dad, Mike Frierson couldn't keep up. It was 2015. Mike was 34-years-old.

"I told him I was embarrassed," he said, "I knew I was out of shape, but I had no idea I was this out of shape."

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Chadwick Boseman's death highlights a risk that impacts young people at much higher rates now than in previous decades.

His dad urged him to see a doctor. Frierson discovered he had extremely low iron levels. He had been bleeding internally, but didn't know it. Two colonoscopies revealed a series of polyps. His doctors scheduled immediate surgery.

"They removed my entire large intestine," he said.

Frierson was diagnosed at nearly the same time as Boseman, with the same diagnosis: Stage 3 colon cancer.

"I'm very fortunate to still be here," Frierson said. "And it would have gotten worse if I would have waited another year."

"It is almost 100% curable if caught early," said Dr. Zuri Murrell, Cedars-Sinai colorectal surgeon and cancer specialist. "You have to first know and be aware that this is a possibility. And it is a possibility in someone less than 50."

People with no risk factors should get their first colonoscopy at age 45. Those with a family history should get one earlier. Murrell did. He got a colonoscopy at age 42. Doctors removed a precancerous polyp.

"I actually practiced what I preached," Murrell said. "Because even though you eat right and you do all these other things -- you exercise, you're not obese -- knowing your family history is very important."

People of color are at higher risk, but Murrell says African Americans are diagnosed at a younger age about two times the rate of White Americans. If you have blood in your stools or any unusual symptoms, you have to be your own health advocate.

"When there is a change, you have to alert your physician," Murrell said. "And when you get a treatment plan if that is not working, you give it a month. And then you follow up."

"You really have to pay attention to your body," Frierson said. "We have to pay attention to signs and can't be afraid to go to the doctor."

The death of Chadwick Boseman hit close to home for Frierson. His battle with colon cancer continues, but he says positivity is keeping him alive.

"There is hope for young men and women who have this cancer," Frierson said, "There's hope for survival."
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