Colon cancer a leading cause of death in U.S., but doctors say it can be treated if caught early

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Television and film star Kirstie Alley passed away Monday, and those close to her say she died of colon cancer, of which she was only recently diagnosed.

Chip Lurvey knows the pain Alley’s family is going through.

“My wife, she passed away last year from cancer at 52. Her father had colon cancer. She tested at 32, but she never planned on retesting until she was 50,” Lurvey says. “If they had tested her before that, then they would’ve caught it.”

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.

An ECU Health oncologist says if caught early, the disease can easily be treated.

“An early stage of colorectal cancer is extremely curable. It’s only when it gets into the late stages that we start to consider it incurable,” Dr. Michael Honaker says. “So that is the importance of getting screened so that we can detect it early.”

That’s the message Lurvey wants to stress. He has started a group that encourages people to get a colonoscopy.

“It’s scary if you haven’t been through one. I waited until I was 53. I’ve had two now. The not knowing what is going to happen is the scary part and the prep is nasty, but everything else is easy,” Lurvey said. “I started the group and I figured if I could save just one life it would be worth it… and hopefully I’ve saved more than that.”

While getting colonoscopies is important, doctors say there are also steps toward prevention that you can take like maintaining a healthy diet low in red and processed meats, limiting alcohol and tobacco use, and maintaining a healthy body weight.