UCSF doctor hopes death of actor Chadwick Boseman will raise awareness as more young people diagnosed with colon cancer

"Even though it's decreasing in the older population, it appears to be increasing in the younger population and this is not good news," says UCSF's Dr. Alan Venook.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- After a years-long battle, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer on August 28. He was 43-years-old.

"It definitely hit home for me, especially his age and everything," said Fremont resident, Joe Perry.

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Perry is 44 and has been fighting colorectal cancer for three years. "It has metastasized into my liver, so that's where it's at now."

Boseman filmed Black Panther and other films while undergoing cancer treatments. Perry, an award winning photojournalist, has also worked through much of his disease. In recent years, colon cancer has been affecting young people at much higher rates. People of color seem to be at higher risk with worse outcomes.

"We have dozens of young people under the age of 35 with colon cancer," said Dr. Alan Venook, who oversees the gastrointestinal cancer program at UCSF. He treats men and women, as young as 20, with no risk factors, like family history, obesity, and diabetes.

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"We've got a marathoner, a tri-athlete," said Venook. "Even though it's decreasing in the older population, it appears to be increasing in the younger population and this is not good news."

Venook hopes Boseman's death will bring more awareness to the disease, which has no known cause.

"Younger people with symptoms, let's say bowl symptoms, diarrhea, or blood in their stool, will know that they may be at greater risk of colon cancer than they thought and will be seen by their physicians. Perhaps more important, the physicians, primary care doctors, need to be thinking of colon cancer earlier than they usually would. You tend to dismiss a 30 or 35 year old as not likely to have cancer. Well, we unfortunately see that that's changed."

Because of the pandemic, Venook and other doctors say people are delaying cancer screenings.

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Venook fears this could lead to an increase in colon cancer cases in the next few years, since colonoscopies can detect polyps before they turn into cancer.

Perry was diagnosed in 2017 after he convinced his doctor to order a colonoscopy.

"You need to be your own advocate. If you feel like there's something wrong, you should get it looked at. Don't be afraid to push a little bit."

"I might be stage 4, but I'm stage never giving up, so that's where I'm at right now," said Perry.
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