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Chadwick Boseman's death is tragic. Here's what you need to know about colon cancer.
Despite Boseman's young age, this cancer is increasingly common in people under 50.
- Though Chadwick Boseman was only 43, rates of cancer in people under 50 have been increasing since 2006.
- African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to get this cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it than other racial groups.
- Preventive measure include better diet, exercise, regular screenings, and a reduction in smoking and drinking.
The shock of Chadwick Boseman's death continues to reverberate around the world. Boseman's story hit especially hard considering he kept news of the colon cancer that took his life hidden for four years. Beyond his outrageous talent and humanitarian bent, the fact that someone in such great shape was taken out at the age of 43 woke up the entire world about the dangers of colon cancer—which is, in fact, affecting younger demographics every year.
What it is
Colon cancer forms in the large intestine. This process begins with small, noncancerous polyps. Some of these polyps become colon cancers. Screenings are especially important since polyps do not show symptoms. When identified, they can be removed before turning into a cancer.
The major types of polyps are adenomas, which are often precancerous; hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps, common polyps that are usually not precancerous; and sessile serrated polyps and traditional serrated adenomas, which carry a high risk of colorectal cancer.
Polyps are more likely to contain cancer when larger than one centimeter, more than three are found, and when dysplasia (precancerous cells) is discovered after removal. Cancer first grows in the walls of the colon or rectum after originating in a polyp. If untreated, the cancer can spread to lymph nodes around the body.
While most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas, other types include carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors, lymphomas, and sarcomas. The exact causes of these cancers are unknown, but lifestyle and environmental factors (listed below) appear to promote colorectal cancers, especially in younger people.
Who it affects
Colorectal cancer—the collective term for colon cancer and rectal cancer—is the third most common cancer in the world (excluding skin cancer). The regions affected are the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon.
Colorectal cancer affects men and women equally. In 2020, 147,950 people are expected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It is also the second-leading cause of death in America, with an expected 53,000 people dying from it this year.
Colorectal cancer affects African-Americans particularly hard. They're 20 percent more likely to get this cancer and 40 percent more likely to die from it than any other racial groups. While 90 percent of individuals survive this cancer for five years or more when detected early, only 9 percent of Black men survive five years or more when discovered in an advanced stage.
While age is a factor, that too is changing. In 2001-02, the average age for getting this cancer was 72; 15 years later, it dropped to 66. More disturbingly, the rate of people dying from colorectal cancer in their 40s is increasing. Between 2007-16, there was a 2 percent increase in deaths in this age group every year. Twenty percent of colorectal cancers are now found in people aged 20-54. This fits with an ongoing trend: an estimated 18,000 Americans under age 50 are expected to be diagnosed with cancer this year.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Signs and symptoms
- An increase in diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in the consistency of stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Constant abdominal discomfort
- Feeling that your bowel never completely empties
- Fatigue or extreme tiredness
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Old age
- Being African-American
- Having a personal history of polyps or colon cancer
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions
- Inherited syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome
- Family history of colorectal cancer
- Radiation therapy during other cancer treatments
- A diet low in fiber and high in fat, aka the "Western diet"
- Increased risk from eating red meat and processed meats
- Sedentary lifestyle
- A varied diet with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains
- Moderate to no alcohol use
- Stop smoking
- Regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Regular screenings after the age of 45
Actor Chadwick Boseman attends the 2018 MTV Movie And TV Awards at Barker Hangar on June 16, 2018 in Santa Monica, California.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MTV
Sara Stewart is a survivor of stage III colon cancer. While all cancers are terrible, she says people are especially unlikely to discuss colon cancer—and that needs to change. Colorectal cancers are predicted to increase by 90 percent by 2030. She advises broader discussions on this topic, an especially important point as she didn't take her own symptoms seriously for two years. Her gastroenterologist discovered a sizable tumor after she finally agreed to a colonoscopy.
Incredibly, a connection in Hollywood helped her change her perspective on cancer. This connection never told anyone about her own struggle with colon cancer because "she would be blackballed from jobs, written off as unreliable and sickly, even though she continued to work long hours around her treatments." In fact, she lost a big job after someone discovered her cancer. Stewart continues,
"Is it any wonder that Boseman, with his meteoric rise to fame and the responsibility of being one of the preeminent faces of Black empowerment in Hollywood and beyond, didn't share his diagnosis publicly?"
Fabian Alsultany has worked in the music industry for over a quarter-century, and he did not remain quiet about his struggle with colon cancer 2B—a tumor perforated his colon. A surgery to remove the tumor (and cut out inches of his colon) and six months of chemotherapy left him exhausted.
"My reality was existing in a two-week cycle of death and rebirth. I experienced every side effect in the book: extreme nausea, neuropathy, dizziness, loss of appetite, hair loss, inability to hold any food in…you get the point: it was miserable. I was fortunate to have my family and friends around me through it all."
Fortunately, Alsultany was able to confide in those around him. He also documented his cancer journey through his blog. While he's an outspoken advocate for discussing cancer, not everyone feels safe in this regard.
Social connections are especially important when struggling with cancer. Hopefully, the ridiculous stigma around cancer, as evidenced in Stewart's writing above, will end with Boseman's death. We need to have these conversations without fear of retribution, and our health care system must make screenings affordable and available to everyone.
- How many people go bankrupt from cancer? - Big Think ›
- Fruit juice may raise cancer risk, study finds - Big Think ›
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.