Kirstie Alley Was Battling Colon Cancer Prior to Her Death, Rep Says

The actress was 71 when she died after a brief cancer battle.

New details about Kirstie Alley's cancer battle are coming out in the wake of her death at the age of 71. The Cheers star was diagnosed with colon cancer, her rep tells ET. 

ET also spoke with Alley's physician, Dr. Mark Friedman, a specialist at the Moffitt Cancer Center's Gastrointestinal Oncology Department, where the actress was being treated for the disease, who defined colon cancer as "the development of cancer from normal cells that grow on the inside lining of the large intestine." The tricky part about the disease, Friedman said, is that many people can be asymptomatic and still have colon cancer.

"Colon cancer can be a tricky one," Friedman shared. "You can be completely asymptomatic and have colon cancer, which is why in the United States we have a screening program, which is basically a prevention program. We have something set up where you can get tests for completely asymptomatic people to determine if they either, might be at the risk for developing colon cancer or have already developed colon cancer."

While he said there is no one sign or symptom that signals colon cancer, there are red flags that could hint at an abnormality.

"There is another cadre of people who have developed signs which are concerning for colon cancer, and those are things like rectal bleeding, change in your bowel habits, bad abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss," he explained. "We typically tell patients who have developed any one of those symptoms, that they have to consider getting tested and evaluated for the development of colon cancer."

He added, "There are a vague signs and symptoms that can be suggestive of colon cancer, but there's no one thing that says, 'You have this. You have colon cancer.' And again, it's critical to know that [the] majority of patients are asymptomatic."

On Monday, Alley's children, True, 30, and Lillie, 28, released a statement on their mother's official social media accounts, sharing that the actress died following a short battle with the disease. Per the statement, Alley was surrounded by her closest family members as she fought the disease, which was only recently discovered.

Per Friedman, how long someone can survive with colon cancer is all dependent on when they are diagnosed and the stage that it's discovered at. Once the disease is advanced, he said there's a high death rate associated with it.

Despite Alley's short battle with the disease, her family shared that she was surrounded by her loved ones at the time of her passing.

"She was surrounded by her closest family and fought with great strength, leaving us with a certainty of her never-ending joy of living and whatever adventures lie ahead. As iconic as she was on-screen, she was an even more amazing mother and grandmother," the statement continued.

The 71-year-old film and TV star is survived by her two children and her grandson, Waylon.

Shortly after the news broke, many of Alley's past co-stars, including Ted Danson, John Travolta, Kelsey Grammar and more spoke out about her life and legacy. 

Alley's ex-husband, Parker Stevenson, also posted a photo and a heartfelt message for the late actress. The two were married from 1983 to 1997, and are parents to Lillie and True.

"Dear Kirstie, I am so grateful for our years together, and for the two incredibly beautiful children and now grandchildren that we have," Stevenson wrote. "You will be missed. With love, Parker."