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Greater Colon Cancer Awareness In Wake Of Chadwick Boseman's Death

Oncologist Dr. Jeannine Silberman
Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare
Oncologist Dr. Jeannine Silberman

The death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer has focused more attention on the disease.

Boseman, whose film portrayals included Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and the Black Panther, was only 43 when a long bout with colon cancer took his life. Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center Oncologist Dr. Jeannine Silberman observed this particular cancer seems to be aiming ever younger.

"I have several patients in their 40s who have advanced stages of colorectal cancer and are in treatment now. So I'm definitely seeing more of that. It ranks third in the incidence of causing cancer death in this country in both men and women. So it's certainly a common issue right behind prostate, breast and lung cancer."

Because of this trend, Silberman said the conventional wisdom about the recommended age to begin screening is also in flux.

"The American Cancer Society recently lowered their recommended screening age to 45. Most of the other associations are still saying to start at age 50. That's for average risk patients."

Certainly, Silberman insisted, there are factors that can increase that risk.

"Personal history of things like inflammatory bowel disease, pre-cancerous polyps, genetic mutations. All those things can elevate your risk and therefore you should be started in that situation even earlier than 45 to 50."

Silberman added that screening doesn't necessarily mean a traditional colonoscopy.

"Some of these less-invasive tests are approved for colon cancer screening. And in varying combinations and intervals. So you can for example do some of these stool-based tests as a first step to avoiding a colonoscopy if, less say, there are people out there who are terrified of having the procedure done. So please don't allow that to keep you from being screened."

Likewise, for those hesitant to visit any medical facility in the midst of an infectious pandemic, Dr. Silberman says that's not really a concern.

"There's a lot of things that can be done without stepping foot into the doctor's office. That being said, most practices have gone back to routine care and that includes preventative testing like colonoscopies and people are working very hard to make sure that the equipment, the environment is well sanitized and they're keeping people distanced and requiring masks."

Even so, Silberman expected the tragedy that befell Chadwick Boseman will motivate many to seek colon cancer screening. She's seen similar things before.

"I can't tell you how many times I hear, for example breast cancer patients, will say that Kelly Preston was diagnosed at a young age and so their girlfriend suggested that they go in and have a mammogram, which was long overdue and then there they are with a diagnosis themselves. So certainly things like this - celebrities and news stories - have an important impact."

Meaning the loss of one very visible life has the potential for saving many other lives.

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