Kirstie Alley’s death sparks focus on signs of colon cancer


(NewsNation) — Following news that actor Kirstie Alley died of color cancer, medical experts are urging people to get recommended screenings for the disease.

Alley’s cancer was only recently discovered, her children True and Lillie Parker said in a post on Twitter.

“She was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength, leaving us with a certainty of her never-ending joy of living and whatever adventures lie ahead,” the statement said.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S. and the second-most deadly behind lung cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute. The institute estimates that around 151,000 cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Colon cancer can be very difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms resemble other conditions like hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome.

While symptoms can be difficult to detect, Dr. Dave Montgomery, a board-certified internist cardiologist, said some people don’t show any symptoms.

“You can have no symptoms whatsoever for a very long time,” he said. “It typically takes researchers, we’ll say, 10 to 20 years for it to advance from very small to large enough to cause this kind of problem.”

This is why doctors are urging everyone to follow the American Cancer Society guidelines and start getting screened regularly at the age of 45, regardless of if you’re showing symptoms or have a family history of the disease.

“Sometimes the gastroenterologist sees very tiny, precancerous lesions, and those, for example, are the ones that eventually could potentially go on to give you symptoms,” Montgomery said.

So what are the symptoms to look out for? Someone with colon cancer may experience:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood in or on your stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation or the feeling that your bowel does not empty all the way
  • Abdominal pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss

Montgomery said when monitoring bowel habits, pay attention to the stool caliber, color, and consistency.

“Caliber — is it smaller than it usually is? Consistency —are you having more constipation or diarrhea? And color — really thinking about are your stools a lot darker, even black, for example, suggesting that blood is moving through the bowel or even bright red,” he explained.

He said those are the bad basic symptoms to watch for, but it someone could also have more vague symptoms.

“You could just have abdominal bloating and pain, you could have weight loss, you can have fatigue, but we want people to pay attention to all of these,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said women tend to have less of an incidence of color cancer, however, many women are diagnosed around the age of 71, the same age as Alley. However, men are often diagnosed about a decade earlier, and more men die from colon cancer, he said.

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