Doctors urge early screening for colon cancer

WATCH | Doctors urge early screening for colon cancer
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 10:20 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Actress Kirstie Alley’s children say she died from colon cancer. They say her illness had only been recently discovered.

In Kentucky, colon cancer has the fourth highest incidence rate behind breast, prostate, and lung cancers.

By the end of the year, more than 106,000 Americans will have been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2022.

Dr. Whitney Jones has spent his career as a gastroenterologist and founded the Colon Cancer Prevention Project. At one point, Kentucky had some of the worst rates in the country for screenings.

“Back in the early 2000s, we were number one in mortality, number one in the people who developed it. We were 49th in screening. We were screening less than a third of our eligible population,” Dr. Jones said.

Kentucky now ranks 17th in the country with screening rates at 75%. Dr. Jones credits hard work from a team of dedicated doctors and advocates for improving these rates. However, there is still work to do.

“Young colon cancer is still a big issue,” Dr. Jones said. “We’re one of the top three states in the nation for colon cancer patients under the age of 50.”

In the wake of Kirstie Alley’s death from the disease and Chadwick Boseman’s death in 2021, Dr. Jones hopes to see patients who have delayed screenings or check-ups, to sign up and put their health first.

“My prescription for folks out there is, first of all, know your family history,” Dr. Jones said. “If you have colon cancer or any other cancers running in your family, you need to be screened at 40 or even sooner.”

In Kentucky, there are resources provided by the state that help uninsured Kentuckians get access to screenings. Dr. Jones says colon cancer is one of the few cancers you can get screened for.

“Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. We can really intervene and save lives through both screening and early detection,” Dr. Jones said.

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