Chadwick Boseman was known around the world as a superhero. After all, he played the titular role in the Black Panther, one of the biggest superhero movies of all time. After his tragic death at age 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, the world found out that Boseman didn’t just play a superhero—he was one.
During treatment, which included multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, Boseman continued to work, acting in The Black Panther, Marshall, Da 5 Bloods and many more. He inspired many through his work and in death he may, in fact, help save lives by raising awareness of colorectal cancer, especially its disproportionate occurrence in Black communities.
Claire Gillespie wrote on Health.com:
“…his death brings an important issue to light: that rates of colon (colorectal) cancer are higher among younger Black men. Rates of colon cancer are 30% higher in men than in women of all races. And Black people have the highest rates of colon cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the US, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
During a four-year span from 2012-2016, colorectal cancer incidence rates in Black people were about 20% higher than those in non-Hispanic whites (NHWs) and 50% higher than those in Asian/Pacific Islanders (APIs). Mortality is higher too. Colon cancer death rates in Black people are almost 40% higher than the rates for NHWs and double the rates for APIs.”
Hopefully, Boseman’s death will raise awareness of these statistics within both at-risk communities as well as with advocacy groups and healthcare providers. In the Washington Post, Allyson Chiu outlines how both patients and doctors can work to prevent deaths from colorectal cancers:
“Normalize conversations: Not many people feel completely comfortable talking about the symptoms associated with colorectal cancer, even during doctors’ visits.
Don’t dismiss persistent symptoms: Another reason diagnosis may be more delayed in younger patients is that they often don’t take the telltale symptoms
Know the importance of screening: Data have shown a decrease in rates of colorectal cancer among people 65 and older, which is probably due to more regular screening, experts said. Screening can be done through stool tests or a colonoscopy, which is considered the “gold standard” method.”
While Boseman’s death was unexpected and tragic, it’s likely that it will motivate many to get screened and to carefully monitor their colorectal health. A superhero on the screen and a survivor in the way he lived, The Black Panther will continue to be a real-life hero, and savior, to many after he’s gone.