Chadwick Boseman passed on August 28 at the age of 43 after a private, 4-year-long battle with colon cancer. The Black Panther star was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016 and fought privately until it eventually progressed to stage IV.
After the sudden announcement of his death in August, the Boseman family received an outpouring of love and support from fans. What fans did not realize at the time, was that another member of the Boseman family had also been privately battling the disease.
The Boseman Family’s Battle
Kevin Boseman, 48, Chadwick’s older brother, recently took to social media to share news of his own battle with colon cancer. He also shared the news of his 2-year remission anniversary on October 14. A dancer and choreographer based in New York City, Kevin quietly underwent four rounds of chemotherapy after his diagnosis in 2018.
Kevin explained that he wanted to share his own news now, “because while it’s been a year of profound loss and tragedy for so many of us, this is good news.” Kevin went on to add, “I hope you’re smiling and shouting with me. Cancer is something most of us have no control over. We can only control our responses to it, which includes being proactive about our healthcare both physically and mental.” Finally, he encouraged his followers to prioritize their own health, concluding with
“Tomorrow is not promised and early detection saves lives. Health is wealth. True wealth.”
Prevalence of Colon Cancer in Families
How important of a role does family history play in colon cancer risk? Well, according to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, about 1 in 4 colorectal cancer patients do have a family history of colorectal cancer. Family history means:
- At least one immediate family member (parent, brother, sister, child) diagnosed under the age of 60.
- Multiple second-degree relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) diagnosed with colorectal cancer or advanced polyps (risk increases if diagnosed before the age of 50).
Additionally, there are other genetic factors that can increase your lifetime risk of a colorectal cancer diagnosis:
- You have a cluster of family members diagnosed with colorectal cancer, referred to as familial colorectal cancer.
- You inherit a harmful DNA mutation from a parent. This impacts approximately 5-7% of all colorectal cancer patients.
When family history does increase your colorectal cancer risk, your physician may recommend earlier and/or more frequent screening. Generally, patients with a family history of colorectal cancer should be screened at age 40 or 10 years before the youngest known case in the family, whichever is first.
Sharing Family Health History
Much like the family unit itself, sharing family health information may look very different for everyone. While some families openly share personal updates regularly, others would never casually discuss health information. If you realize you don’t know much about your family health history, it’s never too late to begin gathering more data.
Use family gatherings to discuss health history. Relevant information includes major medical conditions, causes of death, age at death, and ethnic background of your parents, siblings, half-siblings, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. You can also note lifestyle and environments that may contribute to the health of your family. Remember, you don’t need to include stepparents, stepsiblings, adoptive family, and anyone who married into your family. Where possible, and with appropriate permission, review documents like family medical records or death certificates with your family to have a clear picture of the family history.
Using Technology to Learn More About Your Family Health History
Even an incomplete family health history will still be useful to your physicians—so share anything you have. That said, there are options besides “talk to your family!” for those who were adopted or are estranged from their families and unsure of health history data.
- First, talk to any familial connections you do have. If estranged, there may be one sibling or one cousin you still have contact with, so use this connection. If adopted, see if your adoptive parents have any information about your birth parents’ health. This is often disclosed during the adoption process. Your adoption agency may have also retained this data.
- Where no connections to your biological family are available, you may be able to do some research. Search online for death certificates of relatives, using state-specific death records or ancestry sites. Obituaries are also often available online and may provide cause and age of death.
- Talk to your doctor about genetic screening. Depending on your ethnic background, you may be predisposed to conditions for which genetic testing exists. Your doctor can help you decide if genetic tests will be useful to identify your health risks. Genetic tests have become extremely useful in identifying potential risks. However, they will not guarantee that you will develop a given disease.
When you have finally collected as much family health history as possible, it’s time to be proactive with this data. You can use the Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait” tool here to track your data and share with your physician over time.