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Here's how to lower your risk for colon cancer after news of Kirstie Alley's death

Doctor's office
Posted at 4:25 PM, Dec 07, 2022

(WXYZ) — Actress Kirstie Alley’s death is a stark reminder of how silent and deadly colon cancer can be. 

However, if patients are diagnosed early, there is a high survival rate. It is the second most deadly cancer in the US but there are ways to avoid it.

Yes, I do see more than I’d like of colon cancer. It’s truly tragic this cancer has claimed yet another person’s life. Kristie Alley was a very talented actress – loved her character in Cheers - and she will certainly be missed. But, here’s what I hope will come of this... that more people will understand how important it is to get regular checkups.

It’s the only way to lower your risk. That’s because many people don’t experience symptoms in the early stages. Colon cancer begins as small, noncancerous clumps of cells. We call them polyps. Over time, these polyps can turn into cancer. Symptoms tend to show up when the cancer is more advanced. Warning signs include:

· Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool

· Weakness, tiredness, or anemia

· Unexplained changes in bowel movements, including constipation, diarrhea, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely

· General abdominal discomfort like gas pains, bloating, or cramps

· Vomiting

· Unexplained weight loss

There are several different cancer screening methods, but the best one is a colonoscopy. I know many people dread the prep – I hear it all the time from my patients. But the colon needs to be empty before the procedure. Thankfully the process has become easier and doesn’t require as much liquid laxative. Now, I prefer a colonoscopy because it allows me to see the entire colon and rectum using a lighted, flexible tube. And if any polyps are found or growths look suspicious, I can take a sample or remove them right then and there.

There is also a virtual colonoscopy procedure. It creates three-dimensional images using a CT scan that produces pictures of your colon. Unlike the standard colonoscopy, patients don’t need to be sedated. But they will be exposed to radiation in small amounts.

Other less invasive tests include stool tests. They look for hidden blood in the stool. There’s also a DNA stool test. It looks for abnormal sections of DNA from cancer or polyp cells. These sound much simpler, but the downside is that they can have false-positive test results. Which then requires a colonoscopy to rule out cancer.

So once again, I’d like to stress the importance of getting screened. These should start at age 45. Even younger people can get colon cancer. If caught early, that’s when it’s most curable.