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On Monday, Dec. 5, Alley’s children announced in a statement on social media that the “Cheers” star had “passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered” and had been receiving treatment at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
Alley was 71.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer, which is also known as colorectal cancer, is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and in women in the U.S. and is expected to kill more than 52,000 people this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
The cancer starts in the colon or rectum, part of the digestive system. Doctors say it can be awkward for patients to discuss the symptoms, potentially delaying a timely diagnosis.
“People are maybe sometimes uncomfortable about talking about that part of their body,” Dr. Jennifer Inra, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, previously told TODAY.com.
A common warning sign is rectal bleeding, but other symptoms include iron deficiency anemia, abdominal pain, narrow stools, a change in bowel habits and unexplained weight loss.
Who is at highest risk?
The risk of the disease higher in people who are overweight or obese, lead a sedentary lifestyle, and eat a diet low in fiber and high in red or processed meats, the American Cancer Society noted. Alley was vocal about her struggles with weight.
Age is also a risk factor, with colorectal cancer more common after 50. But more younger adults are being diagnosed, a trend that’s been worrying doctors.
Black Americans have the highest colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates of all racial groups in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. They are about 20% more likely to get the disease and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups.
High-profile patients include Quentin Oliver Lee, who starred in a touring production of the musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” He died of colon cancer on Thursday, Dec. 1, his wife announced. He was 34.
In 2020, “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer at the age of 43. His wife urged people to get stool-based tests and colonoscopies to catch the disease early, before it can spread.
“The age for routine screening has recently been lowered to 45, so if you are 45 years of age or older, please get screened. Don’t put it off any longer, please get screened,” Simone Ledward Boseman said in 2021.
Lawrence Meadows, the older brother of TODAY’s Craig Melvin, died at 43 in December of 2020, four years after he had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com