Chadwick Boseman’s death sparks conversation as colon cancer numbers rise in Hampton Roads

Health

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The recent death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman left Hollywood and millions of fans worldwide shocked and saddened.

It has also created a conversation about colon cancer, the disease Boseman suffered from for four years.

Numbers show Hampton Roads is a hot spot in the country for the colon cancer diagnosis.

The Sentara Cancer Network is currently treating more than 4,000 colon cancer patients, the majority of whom are in Hampton Roads. In 2019, there were 562 newly-diagnosed cases among the 12 Sentara hospitals.

Local doctor Glen Arluk, who works at Gastroenterology LTD, said he’s seeing colon cancer diagnoses becoming more common at young ages.

“I’m finding more and more young people in their 30s and 40s like Chadwick Boseman. He was 39 at his diagnosis,” he said.

“Colon cancer is not an old person disease. It can be in young people and we are seeing it more and more,” he added.

He said there are more and more diagnoses in our area, as well.

“In 2015, Hampton Roads identified as a hot spot in our country,” he said.

There are symptoms to look out for like blood in the stool, fatigue and abdominal pain. Arluk said recognizing those doesn’t always help.

“The problem is, by the time you start having symptoms — abdominal pain and anemia blood in the stool — it can be advanced and the chance of surgical cure is much lower,” he said.

Sentara says in Norfolk alone, there is a significantly higher number of deaths from this cancer in Black people compared to white people.

Dr. Gregory Fitzharris says there are a lot of factors.

“I think it’s multifactorial. Some of it is probably genetic, some of it might have to do with cultural differences, dietary habits, socioeconomic reasons,” he said.

Fitzharris works as colorectal surgeon at Sentara in Hampton. He said the news of Boseman’s death has prompted more questions.

“I’ve had more people come in with typical hemorrhoidal symptoms, some bright red blood when they wipe or symptoms that are very classic for hemorrhoids. [They] are asking should I just get a colonoscopy?” he explained.

But Arluk believes COVID-19 may be impacting who is getting the screening.

“One of my concerns is going to be that people aren’t going to get routine care because of COVID because of fear of getting sick or because they can’t afford it because they lost their job.”

These experts believe catching colon cancer early is the key to survival.

“Don’t get me wrong, the prep isn’t fun, but if you can get this procedure where they can remove something that could turn to cancer, you may have just saved your life,” said Arluk.

Arluk said they recommend getting a screening 10 years before the diagnosis of a first relative, so if your father was diagnosed when he was 40, then start screening at 30.

For more information from the American Cancer Society click here.


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