Actor Kristie Alley seen at an event.Share on Pinterest
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  • Actor Kirstie Alley has died after being diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year.
  • Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common type of cancer in the United States and globally.
  • In the U.S. over 151,000 people will develop the disease in 2022.

Kirstie Alley, known for her work on Cheers and Veronica’s Closet, died this week after a short battle with colon cancer.

The actress, who was 71, was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and had been receiving treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, PEOPLE reported.

“We are sad to inform you that our incredible, fierce and loving mother has passed away after a battle with cancer, only recently discovered,” her family wrote in a statement posted to Alley’s Instagram.

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the third most common type of cancer in the United States and globally.

In 2022, over 151,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Survival rates for colon cancer range from 14 to 91%, depending on how invasive the cancer is.

“The prognosis of colorectal cancer can vary. The biggest determinant for prognosis is the stage of the tumor,” Dr. Michael Cecchini, co-director of the colorectal program at the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, told Healthline.

Dr. Vikram Reddy, a colon and rectal surgeon at Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, says that most colon cancers are asymptomatic.

Some people will experience a change in bowel habits and rectal bleeding. Others will develop anemia, which can be detected via a blood test.

As the cancer progresses, people may develop abdominal pain, bloating, or have difficulty keeping food down, says Reddy.

With advanced disease, people may experience weight loss, fluid build-up in the abdomen, or jaundice, which indicates that the cancer has spread to the liver.

Colon cancer is often picked up during routine colonoscopies. Some types of colon cancer can be identified through a rectal exam.

“The easiest way to screen, diagnose and treat precancerous lesions is with a colonoscopy,” Reddy said.

Age is the biggest risk factor — the vast majority of cases are in people 65 and older, however, in recent years, colon cancer has become more common in people under 65.

If colon cancer runs in your family, you may be at increased risk as well

Race is another risk factor. African Americans are 20% more like to get colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it. Alaskan Americans similarly face a higher risk.

Reddy says colon cancer appears to be caused by a genetic predisposition and can be stimulated by external triggers, including environmental and lifestyle factors, diet, and gut microbiome.

Certain health conditions — like inflammatory bowel disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and obesity — have been associated with a higher risk of colon cancer, but they can’t be directly linked to colon cancer, according to Cecchini.

Oftentimes, it’s unclear what causes cancer.

“For the vast majority of patients who develop colorectal cancer, there is no clearly identified risk factor,” Cecchini said.

“Deaths from colon cancer have been dropping overall due to early detection from colonoscopy,” Reddy said.

That said, deaths in patients under age 50 have been increasing. This has prompted doctors to start screening for colon cancer starting at age 45.

The prognosis largely depends on the stage of the cancer.

“With increasing stage, the survival decreases,” Reddy said, adding that survival rates have improved as a result of advancements in medical and surgical treatments.

Metastatic colon cancer has a five-year survival rate of about 14 % and localized colon cancer has a survival rate of up to 91%.

Reddy says the survival rate for metastatic colon cancer can increase to 50% with appropriate treatment.

Those with localized cancer can undergo surgery and removal of the lymph nodes. Depending on the stage, some patients may need to undergo chemotherapy.

The duration of chemotherapy is influenced by how invasive the cancer is.

Though stage four colon cancer typically cannot be cured, it may be treatable in certain cases and people may even be in remission indefinitely.

Treatment of colon cancer can be complicated and nuanced, says Cecchini, so it’s crucial for patients to be evaluated by a cancer care team that considers all treatment options.

“It is important to review all patients with colorectal cancer in a multidisciplinary fashion to make sure there has been a thorough evaluation whether patients with stage IV colorectal cancer may have a pathway to cure,” Cecchini said.

Actress Kirstie Alley died this week after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer, and most cases are asymptomatic. The prognosis depends on the cancer’s stage, and treatment typically includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.