Iconic 1976 poster of Farrah Fawcett.
By Fred Tasker
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI — After a lifetime of Hollywood success, actress Farrah Fawcett had the misfortune to die from one of the rarest malignancies, anal cancer.
It's a cancer that struck 5,070 Americans in 2008, compared with 40,740 cases of rectal cancer, 108,070 cases of colon cancer, 184,450 cases of breast cancer and 215,020 cases of lung cancer.
It's so rare, doctors say, that many caregivers don't routinely screen for it and many patients don't notice it until it reaches advanced stages.
"Early on, the patient often doesn't feel anything or know anything," said Dr. Michael Hellinger, colorectal surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach. "As it advances, with rectal bleeding, a little lump, people sometimes think it's hemorrhoids."