RIP Teddy Pendergrass—Another Colon Cancer Victim
Soul music legend Teddy Pendergrass, who died Jan. 13 at the age of 59, is just the latest in a long line of people, famous and obscure, taken before their time by colon cancer.
Cancers of the colon and rectum are typically thought of together and often referred to as "colorectal.” 1 in 18.45 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their life, and about 40% of them will die of it.
Severely paralyzed in a car accident in 1982, Pendergrass went through physical therapy, resumed his successful career, and became an active advocate for people with spinal cord injuries. But in the long run, overcoming cancer was one song Mr. Pendergrass, with all his determination and strength of character, couldn't finish singing.
Breast cancer may have the pink ribbons and high-profile fundraisers, but colorectal cancer kills more people—of both sexes. The odds a person will die of breast cancer are 1 in 65.36, while the odds for colorectal cancer are 1 in 45.45.
Unlike breast cancer, colorectal cancer kills men and women at nearly equal rates. The odds a male will die of colorectal cancer are 1 in 43.67, while a female's odds are just a little lower, at 1 in 46.95. Nor does it discriminate much between black men (1 in 41.49) like Pendergrass and white men (1 in 43.86) like former White House press secretary Tony Snow, who died even younger, at 53.
The two diseases have at least one important similarity, though: both colorectal cancer and breast cancer are frequently treatable if detected early through routine screenings. For example, doctors typically recommend yearly colonoscopies for men 50 and older, and women are all too familiar with breast self-exams and uncomfortable mammograms. Still, in another indication that breast cancer attracts more attention, a recent proposed change in mammography recommendations made national headlines and provoked quite a bit of backlash.
Teddy Pendergrass made a lot of people happy with his music, and after his accident he used his notoriety to do even more good in the world. Perhaps with his death he has made yet another contribution. If the news makes people more aware of the dangers of colon cancer and the importance of early detection, it may well save some lives.