Boseman’s death came as a shock to fans worldwide. He had never publicly spoken of the illness, and was only 43 years old when he died.
In the past three decades, research has consistently shown a rise in rates of colon cancer and related illnesses like rectal cancer among young people.
People over the age of 50 are still at greater risk of developing colon cancer overall. However, people under 50 are more often diagnosed with hard-to-treat, advanced forms of the disease.
One study on 1.2 million colon cancer patients from 2004-2015 found that most (51.6%) of the patients under 50 were diagnosed with stage three or four. 40% of people over 50 were diagnosed at those later stages.
Bowel cancers can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms — such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue — are shared with ailments like hemorrhoids, inflammatory bowel disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. What’s more, routine testing isn’t offered to people under the age of 50 in many countries, including the US.
Obesity, poor diet, and genetics can all increase risk of bowel cancers
Genetics is a major risk factor for colon cancer. There’s evidence that cases of bowel cancers are more likely in younger people with a family history of the disease.
Eating habits also play a role in bowel cancer risk, and diets low in fiber and/or high in red meat and processed meat can increase the risk of the disease. Some experts have hypothesized that the recent popularity of meat-heavy diets like keto and paleo is partly to blame for rising cancer rates.