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!

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.

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.

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.