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Death of race car driver John Andretti raises colon cancer awareness

John Andretti’s death raises awareness to colon cancer

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The death Thursday of former IndyCar and NASCAR race car driver John Andretti is bringing light to colon cancer.

Dr. Douglas Rex, an Indiana University professor of medicine, told News 8 that people traditionally should get checked at age 50, but the American Cancer Society now has lowered the recommended screening age to 45.

Andretti died at 56 years old. He disclosed a diagnosis of colon cancer in 2017. It develops when polyps, a clump of cells, develop on the inner lining of the colon.

“About half of people who get colon cancer get it after the age of 70,” Rex said. “In terms of demographics in the United States, the risk is slightly higher in African-Americans than it is in whites, slightly higher in those groups than it is in Asians and Hispanic-Americans, but really everybody is at risk.”

Doctors point to smoking and eating lots of red meats as potential causes of colon cancer. Age and family history can also put you at higher risk.

“The incidence of colon cancer is increasing in people under the age of 50. It used to be that about 7% of all colon cancers occurred in people under the age of 50. Now, it’s about double,” Rex said.

Symptoms include rectal bleeding and a change in bowel movements, but, Rex said, people shouldn’t wait for symptoms to occur. Andretti spent the last three years telling everyone to get tested early after his diagnosis. He started #CheckIt4Andretti to encourage people to get colonoscopies to detect colon cancer as soon as possible. It’s recommended to get it done every 10 years.

Doug Boles, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, recalled getting his colonscopy. “Every day I put it off. I canceled it twice because other things come around, and I thought, ‘Man, John is going to be really mad at me,’ and ultimately I had a colonoscopy but it’s really because John reminded us you got to go get that done.”

Getting a colonoscopy can be an uncomfortable thing, but nothing is more important than knowing your health.

Rex said, “Screening means getting checked when you have no symptoms at all. So if you think you’re not at risk, if you’re over the age of 45 or 50 and you think you’re not at risk, you’re wrong.”

The doctor also noted that colon cancer is one of the most common yet preventable cancers. He recommends people exercise and watch what they eat.