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Younger cancer deaths bringing attention to health risks

Virgil Abloh, wearing a red and blue plaid shirt, and  Chadwick Boseman, in black and white
Associated Press
The cancer deaths of designer Virgil Abloh (left), 41, and actor Chadwick Boseman, 42, are causing younger men to rethink their health risks.

The deaths of actor Chadwick Boseman and designer Virgil Abloh are cultural losses, but their deaths are bringing the attention of younger people — particularly in the Black community — to their health risks.

Boseman was 42 and Abloh was 41. The actor died after a long and secret battle with colorectal cancer and the designer after a battle with a very rare kind of cancer.

Nikia Clark is community relations coordinator for Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and someone who is often in the community talking about the cancer center and cancer itself.

"It definitely has brought more questions and the want of more information and awareness about: What did he die of? What were his risk factors? What caused it?" she said. "There's a lot more of those questions. But it seems that those questions are being asked by younger people."

For young men and women, there is a feeling of safety. Health problems like cancer are for their parents or their grandparents, not them.

Clark said questions can be even more relevant to young people because national groups are lowering the ages for screening of colorectal cancer and breast cancer, and more women are getting breast cancer at a younger age. That's showing up in more younger women being screened. Guys, not so much, but more than before.

"While I know the information is received, I think it could have been better received a lot better if there was a man talking about it and sharing his own experience," she said. "So we are putting a lot of our outreach effort into the male community."

Health research shows men are reluctant to pay any attention to their health, particularly younger men who don't even pay attention to their lack of health insurance, and large numbers of men do lack coverage.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.