The sudden death of actress Kirstie Alley came as a shock to many in Hollywood and beyond. What made it even more shocking was when her family revealed that the 71-year-old died as the result of a recent colon cancer diagnosis.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. Colorectal cancer typically starts as a polyp in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Left alone, some of these polyps will progress into colon or rectal cancer.
Nearly half of people will have a polyp in their colon by the age of 50. Family history, age, diet, smoking and obesity are considered risk factors for colorectal cancer. However, polyps can still form without any of those risk factors.
Can colon cancer be detected?
A colonoscopy is one of the few screening tests that can prevent colon cancer. The procedure allows doctors to locate and remove polyps before they have the chance to become cancer.
When caught early, colon cancer has a 90 percent survival rate. Death rates from the disease have been decreasing over the years, likely due to the improvement of screening and treatment.
The new recommendation is for people with an average risk for colon cancer to start getting colonoscopies at the age of 45. Anyone needing to assess their risk should discuss the matter with their doctor.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Like other types of cancers, colorectal cancer may not display symptoms early on. Symptoms often associated with the disease include:
■Change in bowel habits, such as constipation and diarrhea that lasts more than a few days
■Blood in the stool
■Cramping or abdominal pain
■Weakness or fatigue
Dr. Christine M. Bartus is a colorectal surgeon with Hartford HealthCare. Those interested in scheduling a colonoscopy can do so by visiting
hartfordhealthcare.org/colonoscopy or by calling 877-649-3301.