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Chadwick Boseman's death sparks conversation about disproportionate effect of colon cancer on Black men

Posted at 4:46 PM, Aug 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-29 23:11:31-04

CLEVELAND — Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death from colon cancer has sparked conversation about the disease and how it disproportionately affects Black men.

We’re taking a look into the numbers and how community members in Cleveland are trying to help.

Barbershop talk at Urban Kutz in Cleveland took on a heavier tone Saturday.

“You never know what the next man is going through, because who would have known that he was fighting a debilitating disease such as cancer, colon cancer. No one knew,” Andre McCoy, a master barber at Urban Kutz Barbershop, said.

McCoy is talking about Chadwick Boseman - the popular actor who portrayed iconic roles on the silver screen like Black Panther and Jackie Robinson. Friday, his family confirmed he died after a 4-year long battle with colon cancer.

“Devastating. It hit home hard because of my own personal experiences,” McCoy said.

McCoy was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016.

“I didn't know what the future was going to bring and I didn't know if I was going to see death around every corner or around the next corner,” McCoy said.

According to a report from the American Cancer Society, Black people have the highest rates of colorectal cancer of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. incidence rates for Black men are 24% higher than white men, while death rates for Black men are 47% higher than white men.

But why?

“I wish I had an answer for that, I think, you know, there is a lot of research that is going into trying to answer that question,” Dr. Brooke Glessing, Medical Director of Endoscopy for University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, said. “We do know that in the United States that African Americans have a higher incidence of both colon polyps and being diagnosed with colon cancer.”

Glessing said some risk factors include diet, environment, and genetics, but simply, not enough people are getting regular colon cancer screenings as they should.

“We are now recommending that everyone start getting screened at the age of 45. But even with that recommendation, what we're finding is that not even a third of people that should be getting screened are getting screened,” Glessing said. “We’re having those discussions with multiple different types of communities, trying to understand what are the barriers for people to actually get screening.”

Glessing said the reluctance to get screened could stem from people being uncomfortable around the topic.

“It's not something that people like to discuss at family dinners as far as, you know, who got their colon cancer screening, what are my risk factors?” Glessing said.

Those tough discussions have become part of barbershop talk at Urban Kutz which has launched several initiatives aimed at Black men’s health and breaking the stigma around it.

“I love the place that we're at here in this shop because the education that we receive gives us more tools to be able to fight these invisible enemies,” McCoy said.

Jade Jarvis is a reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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