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Know the Warning Signs of Cancer, as Kirstie Alley Dies of the Disease

Learn what to know about cancer and signs you can catch early. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Kirstie Alley, star of Cheers and the Look Who's Talking franchise, has died of cancer at age 71. The American Cancer Society states, "The cancer death rate for men and women combined fell 32% from its peak in 1991 to 2019, the most recent year for which data were available." But the disease still remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. The ACS says, "A total of 1.9 million new cancer cases and 609,360 deaths from cancer are expected to occur in the US in 2022, which is about 1,670 deaths a day."

Beating cancer is never a painless journey and there's still several types that are more challenging to recover from. "While no cancer is easy to beat, some are more difficult than others," Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us. Although we don't yet know what kind of cancer claimed Alley, "pancreatic and ovarian cancer are two types that tend to be particularly aggressive and difficult to treat."

Dr. Mitchell says, "In the case of pancreatic cancer, the tumor is often located deep within the abdomen, making it hard to reach with surgery or other treatments. Additionally, the pancreas is surrounded by vital organs, making it risky to remove the tumor without causing serious damage. Ovarian cancer is also difficult to treat due in part to its location. The ovaries are small and deep within the pelvis, making them hard to reach with surgery. Additionally, ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it spreads to other body parts. As a result, it may be too late for treatment to be effective by the time it is diagnosed. While there is no easy answer to beating these types of cancer, early detection and aggressive treatment are often essential for giving patients a fighting chance."

Knowing how to spot the signs early on is life-saving and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what to know about cancer and symptoms to be aware of.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What to Know About Cancer

prostate cancer

Dr. William Li, physician, scientist, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, and author of Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself explains, "Cancer forms all the time in the body because the 40 trillion cells that have to divide will occasionally make mistakes and become mutations. However, most of these tiny cancers remain microscopic because they do not have a blood supply, so they lack oxygen and nutrients to grow large. They sit inside the body in stasis, until immune cells flow by and detect them, and destroy them. 

So most of the cancers that form in the body never are noticed, and never become a problem.  Once a cancer is able to recruit a blood supply, however, it can grow explosively and begin invading organs and spread. Inflammation can also trigger cells to become abnormal and fuel the development of a tumor blood supply. For these reasons, it's important to have a strong immune system, to lower inflammation, and to eat foods that reduce the chance a tumor can grow its own blood supply."


Why Cancer is so Common

woman in white t-shirt with breast cancer pink ribbon

Dr. Mitchell states, "Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with over 8 million people succumbing to the disease each year. While there are many possible explanations for why cancer is so prevalent, one of the most likely reasons is that our bodies are not designed to last forever. From a cellular perspective, our bodies constantly invent new cells to replace old ones. However, this process is imperfect, and mistakes can occasionally be made during cell division. These mistakes, known as mutations, can cause cells to grow and divide uncontrollably, eventually leading to cancer.

In addition, as we age, our cells become less efficient at repairing themselves, which makes them more susceptible to developing cancerous mutations. While many factors contribute to cancer development, the fundamental explanation is that our bodies are not immortal. Over time, the accumulated damage to our cells leads to a growing number of cancerous growths, eventually leading to death."


When Cancer Becomes Untreatable

Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 20 years of direct patient care experience tells us, "Cancer is the unrestricted growth of abnormal tissue in the body. It can occur from nearly any cell type and form almost anywhere in the body. Additionally, metastasis is the process that allows cancer to spread from one area to another, causing even more issues. When tumor masses become too large, or cancer cells violate sensitive regions, such as the brain or kidneys, critical body functions begin to shut down.

Lung cancer patients often suffer from worsening shortness of breath until they can no longer efficiently take in oxygen. Or cancer may spread to the brain, destroying healthy tissue that controls the heart and lungs or higher brain function. Liver or bladder cancer disrupts how your body eliminates toxins, and colon cancer can prevent your body's ability to absorb nutrients. Unfortunately, cancer kills in many ways depending on how and where it develops."


Signs of Cancer to Never Dismiss

Woman with prostate problem in front of toilet bowl. Lady with hands holding her crotch, People wants to pee - urinary incontinence concept

Debashish Bose MD PhD FACS Director of Surgical Oncology Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore MD explains, "Many cancers manifest with symptoms that don't by themselves mean that you have cancer, but some things are worth considering.  Unintended weight loss may have many reasons, but one of them is cancer.  In the elderly, unintended weight loss should be investigated not just for the presence of cancer, but for heart disease, depression and nutritional jeopardy as well. 

In the GI tract, a number of cancers are found due to bleeding, so don't ignore it if you find blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet bowl.  Blood clots in the legs may have many reasons but cancers are among them and so should be investigated. Fevers, chills and night sweats often occur with viral infections but should be limited, so if they persist you should seek medical attention as a variety of blood cancers and lymphomas can show up this way."


You Can Help Lower Your Risk of Many Cancers


Dr. Mitchell says, "Several lifestyle choices can help to lower the risk of cancer. Perhaps the most important is to avoid tobacco use, as smoking is linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including lung, throat, and stomach cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important, as obesity is a risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, pancreatic, and ovarian cancer.

Additionally, eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help lower cancer risk. And finally, staying active and getting regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including colon and breast cancer. By making these small changes in their lifestyle, people can make a big impact in their fight against cancer."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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