What you need to know about colon cancer

African-American men are more likely to die from colon cancer than any other ethnic group in the U.S.

Diana Duong 3 minute read September 1, 2020
FILE PHOTO: Premiere of “Avengers: Infinity War” - Arrivals - Los Angeles, California, U.S., 23/04/2018 - Actor Chadwick Boseman. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY ORG XMIT: SIN

Actor Chadwick Boseman died on Friday, August 28, 2020 after a private four-year battle with colon cancer. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Chadwick Boseman passed away on Friday, August 28 after a quiet four-year battle with colon cancer. The 43-year-old actor had been diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016, which later progressed to stage IV. It came as a shock as he had never publicly discussed his illness.

“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman,” reads a statement announcing his death, which has become the most liked tweet of all time.

“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.

“It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.

“He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.”

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the colon (large intestine), the final part of the digestive tract. The cells lining the colon can become abnormal and quickly replicate, which creates grape-like growths called polyps. Not all polyps turn into cancer, however all colon cancers begins from a polyp. When cancerous, these polyps are known as adenomas. If the cancer cells become more aggressive, it can spread from beyond the walls lining the colon or rectum and spread to other organs through access to blood and lymph vessels.

Colon cancer is sometimes collectively called colorectal cancer, a term combining colon and rectal cancer, which begins in the rectum.

Some common symptoms include changes in bowel habits, such as persisting constipation or diarrhea, blood in the stool, bleeding from the rectum, cramps, gassiness, pain in the abdominal area, stool that is narrower than normal, feeling like your bowel never properly empties, constant fatigue, anemia, and sudden and unexplained weight loss.

According to research, African-American men are more likely to be diagnosed and more likely to die from colorectal cancer than any other ethnic group in the US. African Americans face an incidence rate of colorectal cancer at least 20 per cent higher than in white people and an even larger difference in mortality.

In Canada, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer. It’s estimated that 26,900 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and about 9,700 will die from the disease. Every day, 73 Canadians will be diagnosed, and 27 Canadians will die from colon cancer.

People who already have Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis also have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.

The best tool to preventing colon cancer is early detection. A colonoscopy is an accurate test that uses a tube to view inside the colon and rectum. During this exam, polyps are removed to prevent cancer from developing. Those who are not at high risk usually get the exam every 10 years, but if you have one or two low-risk adenomas removed, you might need another exam in five years. Patients who are at very high risk need the test every one to three years.

While there is no sure way to prevent cancer, reducing your risk through lifestyle changes, such as exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a large variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, minimizing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking can lower your risk of colon cancer, especially in young adults for early-onset colorectal cancer.

dduong@postmedia.com | @dianaduo
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