According to her family, Kirstie Alley died of a colon cancer that was only recently discovered. What’s the lesson there in terms of getting screened early for colorectal cancer?
It’s important to note that early detection oftentimes either leads to prevention or early diagnosis, where the cure rates are a lot higher. The gold standard is still a colonoscopy, but the old adage is that the best screening test is the one that gets done. People should talk to their primary care providers about what screening options are best for them, but colonoscopy remains the best prevention and diagnostic test that we have.
Are there any good treatment options for people who don’t detect colorectal cancer early and advance to a later stage of the disease?
We like to get patients early, where we can offer outstanding multidisciplinary care, but the CU Cancer Center does run a lot of clinical trials for colorectal cancer, particularly in patients with stage IV — or late-stage — disease, which can sometimes offer hope and promise in difficult situations.
Does age 71 seem young for a colon cancer death?
Seventy-one is actually pretty average in terms of diagnosis for colon cancer, although we want people to be aware that the incidence of colorectal cancer in young patients is increasing. That’s why the recommended screening age was lowered to 45 a couple of years ago, so younger people will get colonoscopies and their insurance will pay for it.
When you hear that someone had colon cancer discovered late, does that possibly indicate that they were ignoring symptoms they should have had checked out sooner?
It's always hard to say on a specific patient level, but we encourage people to not ignore concerning symptoms and signs. It could be nothing, but it could be something, and it's always better to discuss any concerning symptoms with their primary care physician. If you see blood in the toilet or on toilet paper, or if you have unexplained abdominal plain, unexplained weight loss, or unusual levels of fatigue — those are the symptoms to look out for.