Actor Chadwick Boseman’s death from colorectal cancer at 43 was a shock to many, but it’s indicative of a trend doctors haven’t been able to explain yet.
“It is very true that we are seeing a trend towards new diagnoses of colorectal cancer in younger individuals,” said Dr. Dana Sloane, a gastroenterologist with Kaiser Permanente in Maryland.
In 2020, 12% of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in people younger than 50, Sloane said.
“It’s a very frightening statistic. It’s one we don’t understand very well,” she said. “We know that the modifiable risk factors are things like obesity and smoking and inactivity.”
Only advanced cases of colorectal cancer show detectable symptoms, such as abdominal pain and rectal bleeding.
“The key is preventative care; the key is getting screened; the key is understanding your family history,” she said. “You might be at higher risk if any first-degree family members, such as a mom, dad, sibling or child has been diagnosed.”
Colorectal cancer is common among men and women. It can claim victims with no family history and people far younger than you might expect.
“I was 36 years old when I found out I had colon cancer,” said WTOP afternoon drive editor Mike Jakaitis, of Germantown, Maryland. Jakaitis will be 14 years cancer-free in December.
He describes his discovery of the cancer as a “total fluke.”
The first indication something was wrong resulted from attending a blood drive hosted by WTOP and ABC7. Jakaitis’ offer to donate was rejected because he was anemic.
“My wife, also — she noticed I was really, really, tired during the summer of 2006,” he said.
Because Jakaitis is stubborn and resisted advice to get checked out, it was his wife, Kellie, who eventually made the doctor’s appointment that saved his life.
Now, he feels lucky, grateful and reflective.
Boseman was also diagnosed with colorectal cancer before turning 40. His death hit Jakaitis hard.
“A lot of things go through my mind,” Jakaitis said. “You get this thing called survivor’s guilt. And, you say to yourself, ‘How did I get this lucky star?'”
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease, but colorectal cancer is the most treatable if caught early.
Jakaitis realized there was a lot of randomness behind his being able to call himself a survivor.
“I’m a prime example of early detection. And maybe I got this lucky star so I can be an advocate for early testing,” Jakaitis said. “I can’t stress enough: Please, get yourself checked out.”
American Cancer Society guidelines updated in 2018 suggest people of average risk to begin colon cancer screenings at age 45.