GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The death of Chadwick Boseman, who starred as Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, has pushed colon cancer into the spotlight.

Boseman died Friday after battling colon cancer since 2016. He was only 43.

Colorectal cancers are the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

“While the overall rate has been falling since the 1980s, (for younger people), specifically between the ages of 20 and 39 years old, the rates are actually increasing,” said Scott Rothbart, an associate professor at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids who recently authored a study on colorectal cancers. “I think these stats are emphasizing the need to be able to detect colon cancer at earlier stages and also the need for more effective therapies.”

Rothbart said the work researchers are doing along with the Van Andel Stand Up to Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team has sparked hope.

“One of the really exciting areas of targeted therapies now are in this space called immunotherapy, which is really showing promise for certain subtypes of colon cancers,” he explained. “We’re thinking these epigenenic therapies may be used to help to wake up the immune system, to prime patients’ immune systems for cancer therapy with these immunomodulating agents that are less effective in certain colon cancer types.

“We’re really making some exciting progress in this area and we’re hoping to move these epigenetic therapy combinations to clinical trials in the next few years,” he added.

Rothbart said that in the meantime, people should keep up with screening and talk to their doctor about any family history of colorectal cancers.