Doctors are warning about the easily-overlooked signs of appendix cancer following the death of actor Adan Canto.
The Latino actor died at age 42 on Monday following a private battle with the rare but fast-growing form of the disease.
Canto was best known for his roles as Vice President-elect Aaron Shore opposite Kiefer Sutherland on Designated Survivor and as Sunspot in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Appendiceal cancer is rare, with fewer than 1,000 cases diagnosed in the US every year – about one to three per million people.
However, studies show the disease is becoming more common, with rates rising more than 200 percent in people under 50 over the last two decades.
Doctors are unsure what’s behind the rise, but they have noted the increase is similar to the unexplained uptick of colon cancer in young people.
Adan Canto, pictured above in 2016 participating in a triathalon in Malibu, California, died from appendiceal cancer at the age of 42 following a private battle with the disease
The above graphic shows the symptoms of appendicial, or appendix, cancer. Doctors are detecting a mysterious rise in cases of the disease
Along with its rarity, a challenge in diagnosing appendiceal cancer is that its signs are easily dismissed as more common conditions.
This raises the risk of the disease only being diagnosed in later stages when it’s harder to treat.
Here are the common signs of appendiceal cancer:
Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix – a small finger-shaped pouch at the end of the large intestine.
Doctors are unsure of the function of the appendix, with some experts saying it may act as a storehouse for good bacteria while others brand it as an evolutionary leftover from a time when human ancestors ate more plants.
Appendicitis is typically caused by a blockage in the lining of the organ, as well as infections.
This leads to sudden and severe pain around the navel that moves to the lower right part of the abdomen. This pain can become worse with coughing, walking, or making other quick movements.
According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs of appendicitis include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
If left untreated, the appendix can burst. The only treatment for appendicitis is removing the appendix – but the cancer remains if it has spread to other organs.
Fluid in the abdomen
Canto is survived by his wife, Stephanie Ann Canto, and their two young children, Roman Alder, three, and Eve Josephine, one
Canto was known for roles in the show Designated Survivor and the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past
As appendiceal cancer spreads, it can lead to a buildup of fluid in the abdomen.
This is also known as ascites, which occurs between two layers in the peritoneum, a sheet of tissue that protects the stomach, bowels, liver, and kidneys.
Ascites leads to a distended, or swollen, abdomen.
In addition to appendiceal cancer, ascites can be caused by heart failure, kidney failure, infection, or cirrhosis – scarring – of the liver.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, additional signs of ascites include swelling in the ankles, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, back pain, difficulty sitting, and fatigue.
Bloating is one of the most common signs of appendiceal cancer – and one of the most overlooked.
Bloating makes the belly feel full and tight from a buildup of gas in the stomach and intestines.
More common causes of bloating include constipation, gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and eating too much.
Because it can be tied to so many more common conditions, patients with appendiceal cancer who have bloating could be misdiagnosed.
As tumors grow, they can lead to blockages in the body, as well as discomfort.
These changes could result in digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and changes in stool consistency.
The amount of times you go to the bathroom can also change, as well as stool color.
It’s unclear if appendiceal cancer leads to one type of bowel change over another.
However, issues like constipation and diarrhea can be mistaken for more common conditions like IBS, food intolerance, and infections.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), infertility can be a sign of appendix cancer.
Other cancers can also affect fertility by disrupting hormone production and damaging reproductive organs.
The most common form of appendiceal cancer is neuroendocrine appendiceal cancer, which grows from enterochromaffin cells – these are involved in digestion and intestinal movement.
Neuroendocrine tumors disrupt hormone-producing cells, which could lead to infertility.
This can be particularly alarming for young patients, among whom appendiceal cancers are rising, as fertility rates continue to fall in the US.
Abdominal pain is another commonly overlooked sign of appendiceal cancer.
This type of pain can occur anywhere between the chest and the groin, though it mostly refers to pain in the stomach region.
Similar to bowel changes and bloating, abdominal pain can be mistaken for more common conditions like constipation and food intolerances.
In appendiceal cancer, this pain can also radiate to the pelvic area.