Gregg Leakes, husband of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star NeNe Leakes, has died from colon cancer, Fox News confirmed Wednesday. He was 66 years old. But who is most at risk and how can people lower the risk of the deadly cancer?
Gregg was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2018, but it went into remission after treatment. In June, however, NeNe confirmed that his cancer had returned.
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Nearly all colorectal cancers start as abnormal growths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which notes the growths, or “precancerous polyps” may not result in symptoms for years. However, colorectal cancer screenings can help find the growths so they can be removed before progressing to cancer.
“The most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to get screened for colorectal cancer routinely, beginning at age 45,” per the health agency’s webpage, which notes millions of Americans are missing recommended screenings and the chance to find and treat the cancer early. By 2018, 68.8% of U.S. adults aged 50-75 were up-to-date on colorectal cancer screening, up from 67.4% in 2016.
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Colon and rectum cancers occurred at a rate of 36.5 per 100,000 in 2018, with over 140,000 new reported cancer cases and 52,163 related deaths that year, per the latest available figures. Annual rates of new colorectal cancers and cancer-related deaths in the U.S. have been gradually declining since 1999, though the number of new annual cases has increased on several occasions.
Aside from screenings, lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, like boosting exercise, limiting alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco. Researchers are working to determine whether aspirin use and diet changes can lower the risk of colorectal cancer too, according to the CDC.
Colon cancer risk increases with age, but other risk factors include inflammatory bowel disease, personal or family history of of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps and a genetic syndrome (familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome), the agency adds.
Symptoms may include change in bowel habits, bloody stool, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps and inexplicable weight loss, among others. The CDC advises consulting a doctor upon experiencing these symptoms, which could result from something else aside from cancer.