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This past August, the world marked one year an icon: Chadwick Boseman. His sudden and tragic passing at the age of 43 following a four-year fight with colorectal cancer, shocked fans and saddened millions. It also sparked increased awareness of the second deadliest cancer in the U.S. and the increased risk among communities of color.

We know Black Americans experience colorectal cancer at a disproportionate rate. According to the American Cancer Society, compared to White men and women, the incidence rates of colorectal cancer for Black men and women are 24% and 19% higher, respectively. The death rate is similarly troubling at 47% higher for Black men and 34% for Black women.

These are not just numbers; colorectal cancer has touched the lives of too many in our community. My own family has experienced the loss of a young person to this dreadful disease, leaving us stunned and wishing we could have done more. She spent her last days fighting to promote colorectal cancer awareness and screening, and urged us to continue the battle after she was gone. And, that I will.

We know colorectal cancer can be prevented with regular screening and is more treatable and survivable when found early. Research shows that 60% of deaths from this cancer can be prevented with screening.

Research also shows that colorectal cancer is occurring at younger and younger ages. A recent study of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer found that one in seven was under the age of 50. In fact, recent guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screenings from 50 to 45.

While these new standards wouldn’t have saved Boseman, they could save many lives of the people between the ages of 45 – 50 this new recommendation seeks to address. It should serve as a reminder for families and individuals in vulnerable communities to remain vigilant against this lurking threat.

I understand the hesitancy of getting needed screenings for people of color. We have long navigated a medical system filled with racism, mistreatment and denial of care. Furthermore, preventive care and screenings have remained difficult to access and are put on the back burner as we address more pressing concerns.

We have a lot of work to do as a nation to reverse these historical injustices in our health care system and level the playing field for receiving quality care in our country. And, we shall.

We have an opportunity to leverage new strategies and technology to pull preventive care and screenings into reach through the use of tele-health services and at-home screening. And, we should. We have the chance to take stock of what we have put off or delayed during the darkest parts of the pandemic, including catching up on colorectal cancer screenings. And, we must.

Getting screened is the first best step in empowering ourselves against the risk of colorectal cancer. It is critical to bust the myth that colorectal cancer is “an old person’s disease” and not for “polite conversation.” It is essential to change our attitude toward colorectal cancer screening from “I’ll do it later” to “it can’t wait.” It takes courage — courage to seek help, courage to put trust in a system that historically has not earned our trust and courage to talk about one’s symptoms or concerns, no matter how personal. Only by opening up and talking with a health care provider can issues be recognized, and a path charted forward.

Colorectal cancer has taken far too many shining stars from our lives. With screenings now recommended at a younger age and becoming more accessible, we now have the weapons to fight this devastating disease. Like the superheroes our children idolize on the big screen, let’s use our knowledge and breakthrough technologies to save lives.


Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, DFAPA, MFPM has been on the frontlines of healthcare for more than 40 years as a clinician, researcher, and leader in the biopharmaceuticals and life sciences industries. She served in various leadership roles at a number of pharmaceutical companies, most recently as Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President, and later Chief Patient Officer, at Pfizer. Dr. Lewis-Hall serves on the board of directors of Exact Sciences, the maker of Cologuard®.