Yesterday, when I first heard of Kiristie Alley's death, I also heard that she died of a recently diagnosed, but undisclosed cancer. I wondered if it was some type of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer, that often can mean death may come soon. I felt sad by that thought.
Today, I was more shocked to read that she died of colon cancer, and that it was only diagnosed about half a year before she died. To me, something seems very wrong about that. Almost always, colon cancer develops and progresses slowly, over the course of several years. If it's caught early enough, it can be successfully treated.
I really hesitate to criticize those who have recently died, but I also find myself compelled to turn Alley's death into a teachable moment.
Colonoscopies have been routinely done since the 1990s. They have been responsible for significantly early detection of colon cancers. Early enough to make that disease treatable or even curable. And this is the case even though only about 50% of the eligible population actually go through with colonoscopy.
It seems like Kirstie Alley might have been one of those 50% of Americans who avoided colonoscopy. If so, she paid a steep price. If she had gotten a colonoscopy, roughly 5 years ago, she might still be alive and well today.
Here are graphs of the number of deaths among women in the USA, each year from 1930 through 2016. See the line for Colon & rectal cancer in medium blue. Deaths among women due to colon cancer have been falling steadily since the late 1940s. Effective treatments are available, but only if the disease is found early on. (I didn't show the graph for men, where the positive results are more dramatic. But I can show it if you ask.)
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