The world was shocked upon hearing the news that actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at just 43 years old after a four-year battle with colon cancer. Boseman’s diagnosis was kept a secret as he continued to make films throughout his treatments. While tragic, this heartbreaking loss provides an opportunity to spread awareness about this vicious disease and how Black people, who are most at risk of dying from it, can prevent it.
During this week’s Wellness Check, ESSENCE spoke with gastroenterologist Darrell M. Gray II and Stand Up to Cancer’s Health Equity Committee member and radiation oncologist Karen Winkfield about what Black people need to know about colon cancer—including symptoms, risks, diagnosis and treatment.
Though getting a colon cancer diagnosis can be scary, Winkfield stresses that this disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence. “Early detection saves lives,” she says. “It’s important to get screened and talk to your doctor if you have symptoms.”
Gray elaborates on what symptoms we should look out for that could potentially indicate colon cancer. “[Symptoms can include] blood in the stool, unintentional weight loss, abdominal pain, bloating or changes in stool caliber,” says Gray. “Like Dr. Winkfield said, it’s so important that we have those discussions [so that] it goes from being something that’s embarrassing to talk about to something that is natural. We have to break the stigma. Family secrets kill families.”
As Boseman’s death has indicated, colon cancer can happen in patients who are particularly young. Winkfield says this is all the more reason why Black people in particular need to take preventive measures and get screened. “Chadwick Boseman would not have even met the criteria for screening,” she points out. “So it’s really important for us to think about ways that we can not only prevent colorectal cancer, but also making sure we’re having those ’embarrassing’ conversations with our doctors.”
Watch the full video for Winkfield’s and Gray’s lifesaving tips about colon cancer in the video above.