How Can Bacteria Help Stop Colon Cancer?

Fast Facts

  • In order to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer you should start getting screened beginning at age 45, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and get exercise. You should avoid alcohol, tobacco and processed foods.
  • The microbiome is made up of all the bacteria, fungi and viruses in your gut. When healthy bacteria outnumber toxic bacteria, they can reduce your risk of many diseases including colon cancer.
  • The steps to a healthy microbiome are the same ones that reduce your risk of colon cancer: eat a healthy diet, avoid unhealthy foods and habits and get some exercise. You’ll feel better and your body will thank you!

In the last article we discussed how people are getting colon cancer at a younger age. The thing many young people who get colon cancer have in common is that they have an unhealthy balance of bacteria in their guts. 

The gut microbiome is made up of all the bacteria, fungi and even viruses that live in your intestines. If a healthy microbiome can help prevent diseases like colon cancer, then how can you go about making sure you’re feeding the good bacteria and not the bad ones? Luckily, there’s been a lot of research on this topic! Let’s take a look at what doctors have to say about supporting a healthy digestive system…

Your bacteria are what you eat

One of the best ways to boost your gut health is by eating food that healthy bacteria love. Registered Dietician, Rachel Dyckman, recommends doing these 5 things to see an improvement in your microbiome right away:

  1. Eat prebiotic foods at every meal. You’ve probably heard of probiotics- they’re the supplements that contain healthy bacteria. Probiotics are what healthy bacteria like to eat. Some foods that contain a lot of prebiotics are apples, garlic, oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, artichokes and even dark chocolate.
  2. Try adding fermented foods to your diet. Sauerkraut, yogurt, pickles and kimchi are all great ways to add healthy bacteria to your gut naturally. And fermented foods also help feed the bacteria in your gut.
  3. Add plants to every meal. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables at each meal improves overall health, increases healthy gut bacteria and is associated with lower rates of disease, including cancer.
  4. Avoid Artificial sweeteners. Fake sweeteners in processed foods can damage healthy gut bacteria and are surprisingly linked to weight gain… both of which are risk factors for colon cancer. 
  5. Minimize foods that contain emulsifiers. You may have never heard of emulsifiers, but they are commonly added to processed foods to improve texture or keep liquids from separating. Read the food label. If it contains carrageenan, polysorbate, maltodextrin or methylcellulose, it’s probably not good for your gut! A simple rule to follow is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it’s likely not good for you.

Get moving!

Many studies have shown that moderate exercise can improve your immune system. One study by the NIH showed that exercise actually improves the type of healthy bacteria that live in your gut and improves overall health. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of many health conditions including colon cancer. And people who exercise respond better to treatment for colon cancer than those who don’t. 

Be on the lookout for sneaky dangers

Many people smoke or have a drink in order to relax. And we might reward ourselves with a donut or other sweet treat. But alcohol, tobacco and sugar -as well as processed meats- can cause inflammatory bacteria to thrive in your gut. Inflammation is one of the biggest reasons normal cells turn into cancer. Try to avoid or minimize inflammatory foods so that the healthy bacteria have a chance to survive, especially if you’re at increased risk for colon cancer.

The bottom line:

Your gut microbiome is made of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses in your intestines. If you treat them right, the good bacteria can help reduce your risk of lots of diseases, including colon cancer.  When unhealthy bacteria take over, inflammation can develop which can lead to cancer. Eat healthy foods, exercise and avoid processed foods, sugar, alcohol and tobacco to boost your microbiome health. You’ll also reduce your risk of colon cancer. And remember to get screened for colon cancer starting at age 45. Check it for your family. Checkit4Andretti!

What is the microbiome and what does it have to do with colon cancer in young people?

Fast Facts:

  • Colon cancer is being found in younger people at almost double the rate it was just 2 decades ago. It’s usually more advanced and more deadly in young people. At the same time, it’s being found less often in people over 50.
  • Colon cancer in younger people acts differently than it does in older people.
  • The bacteria in the gut (microbiome) might play a big role in getting colon cancer. This includes influencing risk factors like inflammation and obesity.

Does it seem like you know more and more people getting diagnosed with colon cancer? If it does, you’re not alone. And the people you hear about getting diagnosed are probably younger than you might expect them to be.

Early onset colorectal cancer is colon or rectal cancer found in people younger than 50 years old. Early onset colorectal cancer is on the rise around the world. In 2020, The National Cancer Institute created a think tank of experts to figure out why so many young people are getting colon cancer. They looked at the patient profiles of young people who were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer and found they look different than older people.

Younger people with colon cancer have many things in common with each other. The things they share make their colon cancers advance quicker, harder to treat and more deadly. One of the factors they have in common is abnormal gut bacteria, known as the microbiome.

Let’s take a look at what the microbiome is and how younger people experience colorectal cancer.

What are the statistics on early onset colon cancer?

Colon cancer was considered a disease of older people just a couple decades ago. In people over 50, awareness and screening have allowed polyps to be diagnosed earlier, before they have a chance to become cancerous. The incidence of colon cancer and the death rate has gone down in this age group.

That’s not the case with younger people, however. Because screening isn’t recommended before 45 years of age, many young people don’t even think about colon cancer. Here are some concerning statistics about early onset colon cancer:

  • Colon cancer in younger people now accounts for 10% of all colon cancer cases.
  • Since 2012, colon and rectal cancer has increased almost 2% every year.
  • When colon cancer is diagnosed in younger people, it’s more advanced and harder to treat than in older people.
  • By 2030, colon cancer is expected to be the #1 cause of cancer death in people under 50 years of age.
  • People with early onset colorectal cancer share several factors in common.

What do young people with colon cancer have in common?

Scientists researching early onset colon cancer have found people share three things in common that are interrelated:

  1. Diet: people who get early onset colon cancer tend to eat more processed food. They eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Highly processed meats and fat are associated with higher rates of many types of cancer, including colon cancer. People who eat more calories from highly processed foods tend to be overweight or obese, which is also a risk factor for many cancers. In young people with colon cancer, over half were overweight and 17% were obese. Sugar, especially from processed food, has been shown to lead to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and damage to the gut lining. Sugar is also thought to feed cancer cells once they develop.
  2. Inflammation: Many people with cancer have a chronic inflammatory condition. Over 50% of young people with colon cancer have a chronic inflammatory gut condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis. Diet and obesity can make inflammation worse.
  3. Gut bacteria: Scientists have found that bacterial toxins from human intestines can cause colon cancer in mice. Those same toxins can cause inflammation. Overweight and obese people often have abnormal gut bacteria. 

Diet affects weight. Weight affects inflammation. Inflammation affects gut bacteria, which affects weight. Together, they can have an impact on developing early onset colon cancer.

So exactly, what is the microbiome?

You might hear the term “microbiome” a lot these days. Microbiome means all the bacteria found in your gastrointestinal tract, or gut. Doctors have calculated that there are more bacteria cells in your gut than all other types of cells in the rest of your entire body combined. 

These bacteria can help you break down food, make helpful chemicals and fight off bad bacteria and yeast. Doctors have even found that gut bacteria make neurotransmitters that can affect your mood and happiness. But, when the gut bacteria get out of balance, unhealthy bacteria can take over. 

How can gut bacteria reduce the risk of getting colon cancer?

Your gut is your first line of internal defense against many types of disease. A healthy gut microbiome can fight off bad bacteria that might make you sick. A healthy microbiome is also important for improving risk factors of colon and rectal cancer, including:

  • Improved chronic gut inflammation
  • Less bacterial toxin production in the gut
  • Healthier weight
  • Improved nutrient processing and absorption, including vitamins
  • Gut bacteria can impact how effective chemotherapy is

In our next article, we’ll talk about what you can do to make your microbiome as healthy as possible.

The bottom line:

Colorectal cancer is on the rise in younger people. It’s on track to be the most common cause of cancer death in people under 50 by 2030. Early onset colorectal cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage and is harder to treat than when it’s found in older people. The common factors seen with early onset colon cancer include diet, inflammation and gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome can improve inflammation, weight, chemotherapy effectiveness and nutrient availability. Routine screening isn’t recommended before the age of 45, but if you have any symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting checked right away. Check it for your family. Check it for your peace of mind. Checkit4Andretti! 

7 Colonoscopy Myths and Fast Facts

Fast Facts:

  • There’s lots of different reasons why people don’t want to get screened for colon cancer. But everyone has the reason why they need to just go ahead and do it: someone loves you!
  • Most cases of colon cancer happen in people with no risk factors and it’s happening in younger people.
  • Screening for colon cancer can be done in many ways, including in the privacy of your own home. You need to talk to your doctor to find out what test is best for you and when you should get screened. The rule of thumb is that everyone between 45-75 should be screened. Earlier if you have risk factors.

A lot of people have the idea that getting screened for colon cancer is messy or embarrassing. Or kind of gross. Some people may think they don’t need to get screened because they are perfectly healthy. Or maybe they just don’t have any risk factors. Whatever your reason for not getting screened, it’s probably based on some misinformation. Today we’re going to look at some common myths about getting screened for the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the US. Then we’ll look at why those myths are wrong.  Hopefully, you’ll recognize one of these as the reason you haven’t gotten screened and you’ll change your mind. (If you want to know more, click on the blue Fast fact below each myth for a link that will take you to an article with additional information.)

  1. MYTH: A colonoscopy is the only way to screen for colon cancer.

Fast fact: There are lots of ways to screen for colon cancer. Some can even be done in your own home and sent to a lab for testing. If you’re between 45-75 years old, or if you have risk factors, talk to your doctor about which test you should be getting.

  1. MYTH: I don’t have any risk factors for colon cancer, so I don’t need to get screened.

Fast fact: Over 75% of people who get colon cancer don’t have any risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the best way to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer is to start getting screened beginning at age 45. You’ll need to keep getting screened on a regular basis, depending on which test you’re using

  1. MYTH: There’s really nothing I can do to keep from getting colon cancer.

Fast fact: The American Society of Colorectal Surgeons say that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of getting colon cancer. Eat a healthy diet with lots of veggies, quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

  1.  MYTH: Colon cancer is a disease older people get.

Fast fact: Colon cancer has doubled in people under 50 since 1990. Not only that, but it’s being diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Doctor’s don’t really know why this is happening. If you have any risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting screened earlier. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor right away to get tested.

  1.  MYTH: Having a colonoscopy is painful, messy and embarrassing!

Fast fact: Doctor’s don’t have a way to make you feel less embarrassed. But they can definitely make you comfortable for your colonoscopy. An anesthesia provider will make sure you’re sedated and pain-free. New “bowel preps” are much easier to tolerate- and less messy!- than in the past. A little bit of embarrassment is a small price to pay to find a polyp before it turns into cancer!

  1.  MYTH: A polyp means I have colon cancer.

FAST FACT: A polyp is a benign (not cancer) finger-like piece of tissue. Some polyps could turn into cancer, but most don’t. Polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy and checked under a microscope to find out if there are any signs of cancer. If you’re between the ages of 45-75, talk to your doctor about getting screened.

  1. MYTH: I don’t have any symptoms so I can’t have colon cancer.

FAST FACT:  Polyps don’t usually cause any symptoms. And colon cancer doesn’t cause symptoms early on. If you wait until you have symptoms to get checked, you might have missed the chance to find a polyp before it becomes cancerous. Get screened starting at age 45 or earlier if you have risk factors.

The bottom line:

John Andretti’s 60th birthday would have been March 12. And March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The CheckIt4Andretti Foundation’s mission is to honor John’s memory by helping others beat colon cancer. Watch this video busting colon cancer myths from University of Chicago Medicine. 

Most reasons people give for not getting screened are based on misinformation and not understanding what’s available today. Get the information you need by talking to your doctor. Check it for someone you love. Check it for someone who loves you. CheckIt4Andretti.

Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, Inc Annual Report 2022

“At age 53, John Andretti was the picture of health – still fit from a career in Motorsports, swearing he would always race again and never officially retiring. He was the last person anyone expected to receive a cancer diagnosis, but in January of 2017, his colonoscopy came back positive for cancerous polyps. His diagnosis made him face the decision of either fighting the disease privately or announcing it to the public. He decided that, although this diagnosis is devastating, he would use it to bring awareness to the disease, advocating for proper screening and early detection,” reads the home page of the Checkit4Andretti Foundation. Sadly, John died in January 2020, but his family continues his legacy through the foundation and advocacy work.

In December of 2021, the clinic learned of this new foundation and it’s interest in partnering to provide screening colonoscopies to low-income, uninsured adults. After much hard work and red tape, Nancy Andretti, the wife of John, reached out and gave the clinic the green light to send eligible patients to Northeast Digestive Health and Dr. Vinay Patel in March of 2022. Dr. Amy Wilson, the clinic’s medical director was thrilled. “Having the ability to refer patients for screening colonoscopies is amazing! With cancer, especially colon cancer, if caught early, it can be treated and even cured. This is a wonderful, life-saving opportunity for our patients, she says.” Dr. Wilson and her medical assistants, DeAnna Turner and Caroline Parrott, got busy identifying those patients that were at greatest risk – those with symptoms and those with family history. During the nine months of 2022, 30 patients received free screening colonoscopies. Ten of those were donated by Northeast Digestive Health and 20 were paid for by the Checkit4Andretti Foundation. One cancer was detected and treated. “We have long desired a way for our patients to get colon cancer screenings,” Wilson said. “This just gives us another tool in our prevention toolbox.”

In 2022, the estimated number of new cases of colon and rectal cancers, collectively known as colorectal cancer, was 150,030. In 2021, the American Cancer Society lowered its recommended age for regular colorectal screenings from 50 to 45 years old. “I’d love to see it lowered to 40,” says Nancy. “John wasn’t given three years to live, but he did. During that time, he endured surgery, two rounds of chemotherapy and experimental treatment before the cancer spread to his liver and lungs. This disease is so pervasive,” she says. It is estimated that 52,580 deaths (28,400 men and 24,180 women) from this disease will occur in the United States this year. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society.

Of course, the clinic patients who were able to receive these screenings also knew of their risk factors. When medical assistant, DeAnna Turner asked a few of the patients about their experience, these were some of the answers: “It meant the world to me to have received a free colonoscopy. It meant a lot because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without their [Checkit4Andretti Foundation] help. And if I had waited with the number of polyps I had, I can only imagine how much worse it could have been.” The patient continued, “It makes me feel good about myself to have completed an important health screening. If it was never offered to me, I wouldn’t have done it.” Another patient said, “It meant everything to have the colonoscopy because I wanted to make sure everything was alright. It was a blessing.” and ” I thought it would be a hassle and stressful paying for it, but I did not have to worry about that. I am grateful.”

“It was a pleasure to visit the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County. Dr. Wilson and the staff are providing great care in a warm and inviting office. I was impressed with the variety of services they can provide to their patients including dental, pharmacy and general medical care. We are thrilled to partner with the Community Care Clinic to provide colonoscopies for patients in need through our partnership with Dr. Patel and Northeast Digestive Health,” said Dr. Olivia Andretti during a December 2022 visit.

Read the full report here!

Is There a Way to Prevent Colon Cancer?

Fast Facts:

  • There’s no medicine or lifestyle to completely guarantee preventing colon cancer.
  • The best way to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer is to start getting screened beginning at age 45.

In addition to getting screened, other ways to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer include: staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding processed foods, alcohol and tobacco products.

How can I avoid getting colon cancer?

Over 75% of people who get colon cancer have no identifiable risk factors. It is most common in people over 50, but can happen in people as young as their teens. Even people who lead very healthy lifestyles are at some risk for getting colon cancer. This is especially true if you have certain genetic conditions or if you are exposed to chemicals. Just getting older increases your risk! Even though there’s no medication or lifestyle that’s guaranteed to prevent colon cancer, there are certain things you can do to reduce your risk.

If I can’t prevent colon cancer, what’s the best way to reduce my risk?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that the best way for you to reduce your overall risk of getting colon cancer is to start getting screened beginning at age 45. And then to follow up with regular screenings after that. In an earlier article, we talked about the different screening tests available and which one could be right for you. Your risk factors and preferences will play a role in which screening test you decide to use. It’s important to remember that the best test is the one you are most likely to do. Talk to your doctor and decide what’s best for you!

Are there other things I can do to reduce my risk of colon cancer?

Increasing age and genetics are related to colon cancer risk. And evidence suggests that processed food, alcohol, being overweight and using tobacco are associated with higher rates of colon cancer.You can’t control your age, race or genetics, but doctors think that making certain lifestyle choices may be able to lower your risk of developing colon cancer. They recommend that you:

  • Eat a healthy diet. People who eat fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid highly processed foods, have a lower risk of chronic disease overall. Make sure to choose whole grains rather than processed grains. Try to limit fatty cuts of meat and deli meats. Fish, poultry and lean meats are good options.
  • Maintain a normal weight. This also lowers your risk of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.
  • Stay physically active.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.

I’ve heard aspirin can prevent colon cancer. Is this true?

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommended taking daily low-dose aspirin to possibly prevent colon cancer and heart disease back in 2016. Their new guidelines in 2022 looked at the available medical evidence. They didn’t find that aspirin decreased the rate of colon cancer very much, so they withdrew that recommendation. Aspirin is a medication with side effects (like stomach upset and bleeding). All medicines should only be taken if the benefit outweighs the risks. You should definitely talk to your doctor before starting aspirin on a regular basis.

The Bottom Line:

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in both women and men. Even though doctors know a lot of the risk factors associated with getting colon cancer, there’s no sure-fire way to prevent someone from getting it. Even very healthy people have some risk. You can’t control all of the risk factors, but you can do things to reduce your risk. Eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, minimize alcohol use and avoid tobacco. Most importantly, start getting screened on a regular basis with a test you will use. Remember, check it for your family. Check it for someone you love. Checkit4Andretti!

What Causes Colon Cancer?

Most of us know someone who has battled colon cancer. It’s the third most common type of cancer in the US. And it’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths in men and women combined. Even though colon cancer happens so often, doctors still don’t know exactly what causes it.

The one thing that all types of cancer have in common is that the genetic material of the cell- the DNA- is damaged or “mutated.” Many things can damage DNA: chemicals in our food, water and air, radiation, viruses and even age. 

When the damage happens at the wrong spot, cells can grow out of control, making a mass called a tumor. Sometimes, the mutations allow the cells to escape their normal tissues and move to other parts of the body where they don’t belong. When mutated cells move to other organs or lymph nodes, it’s called “metastasis” or “mets.” 

While we don’t know what causes colon cancer, we do know there are conditions that increase a person’s risk of getting colon cancer. Knowing you have risk factors for cancer can be scary. We mentioned in an earlier article that a risk factor doesn’t cause cancer and it doesn’t mean you’ll ever get cancer. But, having one or more risk factors for colon cancer means that you have an increased risk compared to someone who doesn’t have any risk factors.

Risk factors can be looked at as things you can change and things you can’t change. For example, age, gender and family or personal history of disease can’t be changed. The older you get, the higher your risk for developing many diseases, including cancer. The risk factors you can try to change are called “lifestyle factors.”

Let’s take a look at some of the risk factors for colon cancer that you can work on changing.

  • Physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Over 50 studies of adult Americans have looked at exercise’s effects on colon cancer. People who increase the duration, intensity or frequency of exercise can reduce their risk by 30% compared to people who don’t exercise.
  • Diet: Eating a lot of fatty, low fiber and sugary or highly processed foods like hot dogs and lunch meats can increase your risk of colon cancer. People who eat lots of veggies, fruits and whole foods, tend to have a lower risk of colon cancer.
  • Weight: People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of getting colon cancer. They also have a higher risk of dying from colon cancer once they get it. If you’re overweight, losing just a little weight every year can reduce your risk of pre-cancerous polyps by almost 50%. Type 2 Diabetes is frequently a complication of being overweight. Type 2 Diabetes seems to be a risk factor for colon cancer. Many people who lose weight find that their Type 2 Diabetes goes into remission. So losing a few pounds may help reduce two different risk factors.
  • Alcohol use: People who drink a moderate (1 drink on most nights) or more, have a 20%-50% increased risk of developing colon cancer compared to people who don’t drink.
  • Tobacco use: Tobacco use and smoking is one of the major risk factors for developing colon cancer. The chemicals in tobacco are known to damage DNA in many types of cells. Quitting tobacco can reduce your risk for colon cancer and other diseases as well.

The Bottom Line:

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes colon cancer in individual patients. They do know that colon cancer, like all other cancers, can happen when DNA gets damaged and allows cells to grow out of control. They also know that certain risk factors increase our risk of developing colon cancer. Some of the risk factors are because of lifestyle choices we make and they can be changed. If you have risk factors, it’s especially important to get checked out with a screening test at the earliest possible time. Check it for someone you love. #CheckIt4Andretti.

Fast Facts:

  • Doctors can’t say exactly what causes colon cancer to happen in most people
  • Colon cancer develops when DNA in the cells of the large intestine are damaged
  • You can’t change your family history or age, but you may be able to change some of your “lifestyle” risk factors and possibly reduce your chance of developing colon cancer.
  • If you have risk factors, make sure to get checked for colon cancer at the right time. Screening tests such as colonoscopy can help find polyps and cancers early.

CheckIt4Andretti Charitable Foundation Partnership with NE Digestive Health & Free and Charitable Clinics of NC: How the Partnership Works

March 12, 2022 would have been John Andretti’s 59th Birthday. March also happens to be Colon Cancer Awareness month. To honor John’s legacy, his family started the CheckIt4Andretti Charitable Foundation forging a unique partnership model with NE Digestive Health in Concord, NC and the Free and Charitable Clinics of North Carolina.

The partnership provides a seamless way to identify at-risk, uninsured or underinsured patients in need of colon cancer screening and provide them with the care they need at no cost. The way the partnership works seems simple, but it takes a lot of dedicated, hard work by the  Free Clinic staff and the generous support of the doctors at NE Digestive Health.

First, the patients at the Free Clinic are pre-screened. They must meet insurance and income requirements to begin with. The Clinic doctors and nurses then determine who qualifies for colonoscopy based on age and risk factors.  The Clinic refers patients who meet their guidelines to NE Digestive Health.

Next, the doctors and nurses at NE Digestive review the patient records and physical exam to determine if a colonoscopy can be safely performed at their outpatient facility. Once a patient is medically approved, they are scheduled for their procedure. Sometimes, polyps are found and need to be removed. Other times, a biopsy might be needed. The doctors at NE Digestive Health are able to handle whatever is needed during the colonoscopy. Once the pathology report comes back, they let the patient know if everything is ok or if follow-up is needed.

Every patient is treated with the same care and dignity regardless of whether they come from a private doctor’s office or from the Free Clinics. They are treated by the same physicians and use the same state-of-the-art facilities.

CheckIt4Andretti and NE Digestive Health negotiated a partnership agreement that benefits the underserved residents of the area. NE Digestive Health will perform 10 colonoscopies free of charge each year. After the initial 10 colonoscopies, NE Digestive will provide colonoscopies to patients referred by the Free Clinics.

That’s where donors and CheckIt4Andretti make a huge impact. CheckIt4Andretti picks up the bill for the negotiated price. The patient doesn’t have to worry about a costly medical expense. They can focus on getting their procedure and getting well.

Since the first CheckIt4Andretti sponsored colonoscopy was done in March 2022, more than 30 patients have been served, dozens of polyps have been removed and many lives have been touched.

Dr. Vinay Patel of NE Digestive Health thanked the Foundation saying that it “provided an opportunity to save lives and honor John’s legacy at the same time.” Krista Woolly, Executive Director of Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, also expressed appreciation in an email to Nancy Andretti stating, “I personally know that several of our patients have been SO VERY grateful for this opportunity because of colon cancer that runs in their families.”

Nancy, Jarett, Olivia and Amelia, as well as the entire CheckIt4Andretti Board of Directors, are grateful for the hard work of Dr. Patel, Krista Woolly and all their staff. Their dedication is helping to ensure that John’s legacy lives on.

What Age are You Most Likely to Get Colon Cancer?

A lot of people want to know “the most likely age” a disease might happen. Getting screened, eating healthy, exercising and minimizing alcohol and tobacco can take some of the joy out of life. Especially if a disease might not strike until later in life. You might think of colon cancer as a disease of older people who have a lot of risk factors. But the truth is colon cancer can happen to anyone, even really young people.

What age can you get colon cancer?

The average age of being diagnosed with colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women. The “average age” is a little misleading and doesn’t tell the whole story. The average age at diagnosis has been getting younger for the past couple of decades, and doctors aren’t sure why. It could be because screening in older people is catching polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Or it could be that there are more chemicals and toxins in the environment. Or maybe it’s because we’re more sedentary and eating more processed food at an earlier age.

Most cases of colon cancer still happens in people over 50 years old, but about 12% of cases are diagnosed in people under 50. Young men and women in their 20’s are diagnosed with colon cancer every year. As a matter of fact, the rate of people under 50 getting colon cancer has gone up about 2% a year since 1995. The rate for people over 50 has actually gone down about 3% a year during that same time. Screening tests like colonoscopies are thought to be one of the biggest reasons for the drop in those over 50.

So, who is most likely to get colon cancer?

Anyone can get colon cancer, but some people are more likely to get it than others. In an earlier blog post we talked about risk factors for getting colon cancer. It’s worth mentioning them again here, because they help us understand who is most likely to get colon cancer. A “risk factor” doesn’t cause cancer all by itself. Risk factors just mean that you have a greater chance of developing a disease than someone who doesn’t have them. Some people have lots of risk factors and never get cancer. Other people might not have any risk factors at all and still get that terrible diagnosis.

You have a greater chance of getting colon cancer if:

  • You are male: Men have about 30% higher rate of colon cancer than women.
  • You are Black or Native American/Alaskan: White Americans are about 30% less likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer than Black Americans. 
  • You are over 50 years old: The older you are, the higher your risk.
  • You have a lifestyle that puts you at risk; Obesity, smoking and alcohol overuse are all risk factors. So is being sedentary and eating a highly processed diet.
  • You have particular genetic syndromes: If colon cancer “runs in your family,” you may familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch Syndrome. These are genetic conditions that are passed down through generations.
  • You have certain types of inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.

Can I still get colon cancer if I don’t have any symptoms or risk factors?

You might not be overweight. You may have never smoked or drank alcohol. You might even eat 5-7 servings of vegetables and walk 2 miles every day. But you could still get colon cancer. Risk factors are only part of the puzzle of who gets this disease. Genetics are part and so is the environment. Every day that you get older, your risk goes up a little bit, even if you try to do everything “right.”

It’s important to remember that many people don’t have any symptoms at all  in the early stages of colon cancer. In order to catch colon cancer before it gets too far along, you should start getting screened at age 45 according to national guidelines. If you have other risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting screened earlier.

No matter what your age is or whether you have risk factors, you need to talk to your doctor right away if you have any symptoms that go along with colon cancer. Things like blood in your stool, bloating, weight loss, abdominal pain or feelings of fullness in your belly might be nothing…but they could also be the first clues of colon cancer.

You can get an idea of your individual risk by using the National Cancer Institute’s Colorectal Cancer Risk Assessment Calculator. Just answer a few questions online and you can print out the assessment to take to your doctor. It’s an easy way to start a difficult discussion.

The bottom line:

It’s impossible to predict at what age someone will develop colon cancer, or whether they’ll ever get it. Some people have lots of risk factors and never develop the disease. The average age is getting younger for men and women, and you’re more at risk as you get older, especially if you’re male, Black or have other risk factors. Regular screening beginning at age 45, and up until age 75, is recommended for all Americans. Check it as soon as you turn 45. Check it for someone you love. Check it for yourself. #Checkit4Andretti.

Fast Facts:

  • The average age of being diagnosed with colon cancer is getting younger.
  • You’ll have a better chance of surviving colon cancer if you catch it early, before it spreads to other parts of the body.
  • Since it is impossible to know for sure who will get colon cancer, every American between the ages of 45-75 should be screened regularly.

What is the Best Screening Test for Colon Cancer?

Every American between the ages of 45-75 should be screened for colon cancer. In the last post we talked about how screening tests are used to check for signs of colon cancer before you have any symptoms. Now we’re going to look at the different types of screening tests and get an idea of which one might be right for you.

What are the different types of screening tests for colon cancer?

Did you know that colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the US? Because it’s so common, a lot of research has been put into catching colon cancer early using screening tests. All this research has led to different ways of finding signs of cancer before it becomes too advanced. The earlier you find and treat cancer, the better your chances of beating it.

There are simple tests that detect blood or cancer DNA in the bowel movements. Radiologists can do special scans to take pictures of the bowels to check for tumors. Some types of tests allow doctors to look directly at the inside of the colon. These tests allow them to see any abnormal areas and take a biopsy at the same time.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these tests are done, how often they need to be repeated and what information we can get from them.

Stool tests:

Colon cancer is sneaky in its early stages. You might not feel bad. You might not even notice anything different about your bowel movements. But there can be subtle changes that stool tests can pick up. 

There are 3 different types of fecal tests that look for changes in your stool.

  • Fecal occult blood test (gFOBT): Occult means “hidden” in this case. This test checks for blood in your stool that can’t be seen with the naked eye (and maybe hard to find even with a microscope!) It is one of the oldest tests, but it’s super-easy to do and very inexpensive. The doctor can do it right in the office when you have your annual physical exam. Or they can send you home with a special card and swab. After a bowel movement you just swab your stool and smear it on the filter paper on the card. You seal the card up and send it back to your doctor. 

In the doctor’s office, a few drops of a liquid containing a chemical called “guaiac” are placed on the filter. If there is no color change, you simply repeat the test every year.  If the filter turns blue, it means blood is in your stool. This doesn’t mean you have cancer, but it does mean you need to find out why there’s blood in your stool. Your doctor will probably recommend that you get a colonoscopy.

It’s important not to take NSAIDs, eat red meat or have citrus/vitamin C for a few days before the test because they can cause a false positive result.

  • FIT test: FIT means “fecal immunochemical test.” This test is done pretty much the same way as the gFBOT. Instead of using guaiac, it uses antibodies to look for blood in the stool. FIT test is a more specific test for blood. You don’t have to worry about your medications or what you eat beforehand. If it is abnormal, you will need to follow-up with a colonoscopy right away. FIT test should be done every year.
  • FIT-DNA test: FIT-DNA is two tests in one. It checks for hidden blood, just like the FIT test. And it also detects the abnormal DNA of cancer cells. It is different from FIT and gFOBT because you’ll get your kit in the mail. Next, you’ll collect your entire bowel movement in the special container and send it back to the lab. 

If any abnormal DNA or blood is found, you’ll need a colonoscopy to make sure there’s no signs of cancer in your colon. FIT-DNA only needs to be done every 3 years if the results are normal.

Radiology test:

A CT colonography or “virtual colonoscopy” is a test done by the radiologist. It uses X-rays and a CT to create a 3-dimensional picture of your colon and rectum. It is a very sensitive test that can detect small abnormalities such as tumors or polyps. 

Most people don’t need any sedation for a virtual colonoscopy. The test doesn’t require instruments going into the rectum (it’s non-invasive). But, the colon and rectum have to be cleaned out ahead of time using a “bowel prep.” This means that the day before the scan, you will take some medications that cause your bowels to completely empty out. If stool is still in your colon, it can make it hard for the radiologist to read the scans correctly.

On the day of the test, the radiologist will have you drink “contrast solution” which will help show the lining of the gut on the X-rays. A small tube will be used to place some air into your rectum and colon. Finally, you’ll be asked to hold your breath for a few seconds at a time while the scan is done. You might feel a little bloated for a day or two,until all the air is passed.

A virtual colonoscopy should be done every 5 years if no abnormalities are found. If any area is concerning, you should get a colonoscopy right away.

Direct visualization test (using a camera):

The virtual colonoscopy gives doctors a lot of information, but it can miss some smaller abnormalities. Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy are two tests that use cameras to look at the inside of the gut.

Flexible Sigmoidoscopy

Just like with the virtual colonoscopy, you will need to empty your bowels before the procedure. You and your doctor will decide whether you need sedation. Many people don’t want to be sedated. The doctor will have you lie on your side. They’ll lubricate your rectum and insert a small tube. This will allow them to insert some air and a camera. If they see anything abnormal like a polyp, they can go ahead and take a biopsy (cut it out for tests.) A small amount of blood or cramping and bloating can happen after a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

A Flexible sigmoidoscopy only looks at the very last part of the colon and rectum. If you have a tumor or polyp at the beginning of the colon, it won’t be seen. Flexible sigmoidoscopy isn’t usually recommended for screening in the US.

If you and your doctor do decide to go this route, you’ll need to repeat it every five years. If you combine this test with a FIT every year (or FIT-DNA), you’ll only need to do it every 10 years.


Although it’s the most complex test, colonoscopy is the gold-standard of screening tests for colon cancer. Colonoscopy requires that you have a full bowel prep the day before. You will need to take medications that cause your bowels to empty completely. A colonoscopy is done by a gastroenterologist (GI doctor). It can be done in a special office, a surgery center or even in the hospital. You will almost always get to go home the same day.

Most people have heavy sedation or go to sleep for this procedure. The doctor will have you lie on your side, lubricate your rectum and insert the tube for the air, camera and biopsy equipment. In a colonoscopy, the doctor looks at the inside of the entire colon from the rectum all the way back to the cecum.

The gastroenterologist will be looking for things like polyps. Polyps are finger-like pieces of tissue that stick out from the lining of the colon. A polyp might not be cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to cut it out and look at it under a microscope. The doctor will also be looking for ulcers, areas of redness or larger masses. If they see anything that doesn’t look normal, they will take a biopsy to make sure that cancer isn’t quietly growing inside you.

The colonoscopy usually doesn’t take more than 60 minutes to do. But you’ll need an hour or two to fully wake up before you can go home. You might have a little bleeding, some cramping or bloating, but you should be back to normal the same day.

If your colonoscopy is normal and you don’t have an increased risk for colon cancer, then you only need to get a colonoscopy every 10 years.

The Bottom Line

The earlier you catch colon cancer, the more likely you are to beat it. The best way to catch colon cancer early is by doing a screening test on a regular basis, before the cancer gets far enough along to cause symptoms. There are many screening tests available. The best test for you depends on your risk factors and which test you will reliably do on schedule. Get checked starting at age 45. Check it for you. Check it for someone you love. CheckIt4Andretti.

Fast Facts:

  • Screening tests check for signs of colon cancer before you have any symptoms
  • There are many different screening tests that you can choose from including colonoscopy, stool tests and radiology exams
  • The best screening test for you will depend on your risk factors, but it’s also the one you are most likely to do!

When Should I Get Screened For Colon Cancer?

There is a lot of confusion about when is the right age to get screened for colon cancer. As a matter of fact, even the experts differed on the best age to recommend screening. That’s why they turned to the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). This is a group of scientists and doctors who look at all the available information and decide how to best prevent disease in the US.

What is a screening test?

First of all, we need to define what a “screening test” is. A screening test is used by doctors to look for disease before you have any symptoms. The idea is that if you catch it before it is far enough along to cause symptoms, you’ll have a better chance of curing the disease- or maybe even prevent the disease from happening. If you have any symptoms or are at increased risk for a disease, then you need to have a diagnostic test. 

Get screened starting at age 45

In 2021, USPSTF recommended that everyone aged 45-75 should get a screening test for colon cancer. They found that when screening was done in people over 50 years old (the age they used to recommend), the risk of dying from colon cancer actually went down. At the same time, they found that the rate of colon cancer was increasing in people younger than 50 years old.

What if you are older than 75? 

Depending on your health and whether you’ve had an abnormal test in the past, you might still want to get screened on a regular basis. If you’ve had an abnormal screening test in the past or if you’ve had colon cancer, your doctor will probably recommend that you continue getting tested regularly. Sometimes people decide that they don’t want to continue with the screenings after 75, especially if they have other serious health concerns. You can talk to your healthcare provider and they will help you figure out whether to continue screening or not.

After the age of 86, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to getting screened. You can completely stop testing at that age. The best news is that you’ve outlived most of the people in the country!

What if I have risk factors for colon cancer?

Things that can increase your risk for colon cancer include: 

  • Age: older age = greater risk
  • Race: increased risk in Black Americans, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
  • Family history of Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), polyps or colon cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Other risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, smoking, and excessive alcohol use.

If you have any of these risk factors, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened before 45 years of age. People with a family history of some genetic disorders like FAP or Lynch syndrome should start getting tested as early as 20 years of age. Make sure you tell your healthcare provider about any family history of cancer, especially colon cancer.

Follow this link to download a handy chart to track your family history. Print it out, then talk to your family members. Once you have it filled out, share it with your family members so that they are aware of your family’s risk. You can share it with your doctor, too.

What if I have symptoms of colon cancer?

Many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer have no symptoms at all. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider right away.

  • Change in bowel habits including diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • Feeling like you need to have a bowel movement which is not relieved by having one
  • Bright red blood in your stool
  • Darker than usual stools 
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Weakness or constant fatigue
  • Weight loss without dieting

There are a lot of different ways to get screened for colon cancer. These include several different stool tests, CT scans and even colonoscopy. How often you need to repeat the screening test depends on which one you use. We’ll talk about the different test options and how often they need to be repeated in another blog post.

The bottom line is that colon cancer is one of the top causes of cancer deaths in the US. Screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from this common disease. Screening is recommended starting at age 45 for those people at average risk. So make sure you check it for someone you love. CheckIt4Andretti.

Fast Facts:

  • Colon cancer screening saves lives!
  • Every American between 45-75 years of age should be screened for colon cancer, even if you don’t have any risk factors.
  • People between 76-85 years old should talk to their doctor about whether screening would be helpful.
  • People who are younger than 45 who have symptoms or risk factors should talk to their doctor to decide the best course of action.