Chicago doctors, advocates call for more colon cancer screenings for communities of color

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Tributes continue to pour in for actor Chadwick Boseman after his death, but today there's a call to action.

It's a disease that can often be stigmatized, but in light of Boseman's death at 43, advocates and doctors alike in Chicago say now is the moment to think of getting screened for colon cancer.

"Now that this has happened with Chadwick, we don't want another Chadwick Boseman. We don't want this to happen to another family," said Candace Henley.

Henley was diagnosed with colon cancer at just 35.

"I am a 17 year survivor of colorectal cancer, and when I was diagnosed, there were no resources for me," she said.

Now, she's fighting to educate Chicagoans about the disease and bring health resources to communities of color in the city through her Blue Hat Foundation.

"Fear the disease. The disease is the issue. The screening: 15 minutes!" she said.

But the data is startling.

Deaths by Economic Hardship

According to the Chicago City Health Atlas, Black people die of colorectal cancer at a rate almost double of white people. And people who suffer high economic hardship die of colorectal cancer at a higher rate than the citywide average.

Deaths by Race

The Illinois Department of Public Health says colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women in Illinois.

"I think there's a stigma talking about poop and bowel habit changes but if anything that could be a first sign of the disease process," said Dr. Andrew Albert, Medical Director of Digestive Health Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

And a lack of health resources in Black communities Henley is trying to combat.

"That's the major factor is access to care, the socioeconomic status, the access to healthy food," said Dr. Vivek Chaudhry with Cook County Health Systems.

Doctors say they don't know exactly why colon cancer rates are increasing in young people. But Henley has a message.

"Young people, know that you are not invincible, go to the doctor, talk to your parents," he said.

Doctors told ABC7 that with regular screening, colorectal cancer is largely preventable.
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