After the death of actor Kirstie Alley from colon cancer at the age of 71, various doctors and cancer specialists urged everyone to undergo the required cancer tests.
As per NBC News, on Tuesday, Alley’s management announced to the media house that the actor passed away from colon cancer. According to a statement released by Alley’s family on Monday evening, the cancer was only recently diagnosed.
The statement read, “She was surrounded by her closest relatives and fought with amazing strength, leaving us convinced of her never-ending joy of life and whatever adventures lay ahead.”
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most prevalent type of cancer in the United States and the second deadliest, behind lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute anticipates that this year there will be approximately 151,000 new cases of colorectal cancer.
Symptoms of colon cancer can match those of other illnesses, such as hemorrhoids or irritable bowel syndrome, making diagnosis challenging. Dr. Paula Denoya, director of the Colorectal Surgery Residency Program at Stony Brook Medicine, stated, “Unfortunately, colon cancer doesn’t have many signs until it’s advanced, which is why screening is so crucial.”
According to Dr. Scott Kopetz, a professor in the department of gastrointestinal medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the epidemic also likely delayed the discovery of some new cases.
“During Covid, patients have not had easy access to routine colonoscopy. Consequently, malignancies that would have been detected at an earlier stage are now diagnosed at a more advanced and later stage, “he stated.
Nearly 90 percent of colorectal cancer patients are 50 or older, thus, doctors recommend that everyone over the age of 45 undergo a colonoscopy every ten years.
However, diagnoses among younger persons have increased: According to the American Cancer Society, from 2012 to 2016, the number of newly diagnosed cases of colorectal cancer among those under 50 increased by more than 2% per year.
Dr. Joel Levine, co-director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program at UConn Health, predicts that 15% of colorectal cancers will be diagnosed in individuals under the age of 50 in the near future.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of new colorectal cancer diagnoses in the United States has decreased from approximately 67 per 100,000 individuals in 1985 to approximately 34 in 2019.
Rectal bleeding or alterations in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, might be indicators of the disease’s onset. Patients with severe disease may also have abdominal pain, exhaustion, anemia, weight loss, and diminished appetite. However, Levine stated that individuals should undergo colonoscopies even if they feel well.
“One of the reasons I am so adamant about not waiting for symptoms is because it leads to the conclusion, “Well, I feel OK, so everything must be fine.” And by the time a symptom manifests, the horse is somewhat out of the barn, “he remarked.
Colonoscopies enable physicians to inspect the colon and remove precancerous growths, so preventing the development of cancer. However, the treatment needs sedation or anesthesia, and without insurance might cost thousands of dollars.
Denoya stated, “Patients face obstacles in obtaining colonoscopies, such as insurance, time off work, reluctance to undergo the procedure, or medical conditions that increase the risk.”
Occasionally, doctors will offer a stool test as an alternative for people with these concerns. There are numerous varieties: The Cologuard test detects changes in a person’s DNA and should be performed every three years. According to Denoya, this test is successful at detecting cancer but not precancerous growths.
A second stool test, known as the FIT, looks for blood traces that may indicate the presence of cancer. Denoya stated that this test must be conducted annually. If either test yields abnormal results, a colonoscopy will still be recommended.
In addition to age, other colon cancer risk factors include obesity and lifestyle behaviors such as smoking and drinking. More than fifty percent of colon cancer diagnoses in the United States are linked to behavioral patterns, such as physical inactivity, diets high in red or processed meat, and a low consumption of fruits, vegetables, and fiber.
A family history of colon cancer may also increase an individual’s risk. “If a person has a parent or sibling with colon cancer, that individual should begin screening 10 years earlier than their parent or sibling,” Denoya added.
Patients with an early diagnosis have a good survival percentage. “If the patient is identified with stage one or limited colon cancer, which has not spread to other parts of the body, it is around 90% curable with surgery alone,” Denoya added.
In more severe situations, chemotherapy or radiation may be required. After five years, 72% of individuals whose cancers have migrated to surrounding lymph nodes or tissues around the colon are still alive. Patients whose cancer has progressed to other organs or lymph nodes further away have a rate of 14%.