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Kirstie Alley died of colon cancer: What you need to know about getting screened

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second most common cause of cancer death in both men and women combined.

TAMPA, Fla. — Award-winning actress Kirstie Alley died this week at age 71 after a "recently discovered" cancer, her family reported. According to multiple reports, Alley was diagnosed with colon cancer shortly before her death.

CBS News reports colorectal cancer has been the second-most cause of death from cancer in 2022, and health officials are warning people about the "silent killer."

Tampa Bay-based Moffitt Cancer Center, which treated Alley for the disease before her death, says colon cancer generally develops slowly over a period of several years, starting as a noncancerous polyp in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some polyps, though not all, can become cancerous. 

The American Cancer Society says it estimates about 1 in 25 women and 1 in 23 men across the United State will develop colon cancer at some point in their lives.    

Because some polyps can become cancerous after forming in the colon or rectum, health officials say routine tests and regular screens are necessary as they can often detect polyps, thus increasing the chances of catching colon cancer when the condition is "most treatable." 

While colon cancer is still most commonly seen in older groups of people, generally those over the age of 50, it can still occur in younger people. 

This is why, earlier this year, the United States Preventive Service Taskforce lowered the recommended age for screenings, such as colonoscopies and other tests, from 50 to 45. This is for people who have an "average risk" for the disease.

In addition to getting regular screenings and tests from your doctor, there are also at-home tests — such as a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) — that screens for colon cancer. Health experts say if that test is negative, you most likely will be clear for three years. But, if that at-home test is positive for the disease, a colonoscopy is the second step for diagnosis and also treatment. 

Colonoscopies are usually done every 10 years.


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