Marvel Studios’ movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” the highly anticipated sequel to “Black Panther,” hit theaters on November 11th. It premiered without “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020 from colorectal cancer at the age of 43. Boseman’s death was a stark reminder of the alarming rise in colorectal cancer in patients younger than 50, as well as the higher incidence and mortality of this disease in the non-Hispanic Black population.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is encouraging a public dialogue to raise awareness about colorectal cancer disparities by race and ethnicity, and the importance of screening for colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death. Colorectal cancer is on track to become the leading cause of cancer death in people aged 20-49 by 2030. Incidence rates are about 20% higher and mortality rates are about 40% higher in the Black community compared to the non-Hispanic white community.

“Chadwick Boseman was truly a superhero both on screen and in real life,” said Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, the director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. “His death was tragic, yet one of his lasting legacies will be spurring an important national conversation about colorectal cancer as ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is released. His notable absence is a stark reminder for anyone age 45 years or older to get screened for the disease. Higher risk individuals may have to get screened at even younger ages.” Boseman’s death also serves as an impetus for discussions around colorectal cancer disparities, Ng said.

Factors contributing to the disproportionately high rate of colorectal cancer in Black Americans include:

  • Inequitable access to cancer screening services and cancer treatment

  • Structural racism

  • Social determinants of health (the environments in which people are born, work, play, worship)

  • A shortage of Black physicians in some areas and lack of familiarity with Black economic and social conditions

  • Comorbid conditions (more than one illness or disease occurring at the same time)

  • Severity of disease presentation (staging at diagnosis)

Dana-Farber staff work in the lab, clinic, and the community to improve access to quality cancer care, heighten awareness of cancer risk and prevention, and improve treatment outcomes for Black, Latinx, and other people of color or underserved groups across multiple cancer types.

The Institute is committed to offering quality cancer care to all patients regardless of their race or socioeconomic status and has a dedicated team of resource specialists working to connect income-eligible patients with available resources. Dana-Farber also offers patient financial assistance to eligible patients who do not have the ability to pay for their healthcare. (To learn more about financial assistance, and to connect with a financial counselor, call 617-582-9820.)

Dana-Farber’s Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center is among the first centers in the country dedicated to both treating colon and rectal cancer in patients younger than 50 as well as accelerating the pace of research into why incidence rates are rising in this young population. The center launched the Colorectal Cancer Count Me In Project, which partners with patients in collecting biospecimens and information on diet and lifestyle for research into the risk factors and causes of the disease in younger patients, with a focus on including patients from underrepresented groups.

Regular screenings are the best way to prevent colorectal cancer, and there are a number of ways to screen for the disease, with colonoscopy being the gold standard. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that people at average risk begin colorectal cancer screening at age 45.


Watch video here: “Colorectal Cancer and the Black community | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute” (the video is also embedded at the top of this article).

This article was originally published November 7, 2022, by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It is republished with permission.