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Racecar driver brings awareness to colon cancer

Published on 11 May 2017 back to previous

Get a colonoscopy—and do it on time.
The message is a simple one, but for John Andretti, it’s life-changing.

The former IndyCar and NASCAR driver’s life took a sudden and unexpected turn in January when a colon screen came back positive for cancer. Stage 3 quickly progressed to stage 4 as the disease spread to his liver.

But instead of retreating into himself, Andretti took up the banner. He wants anyone and everyone to know the importance of getting tested, and getting tested on time. He put his screen off for three years. Had he done it at age 50, he said, he might be in better shape; had he waited longer, he might be worse.

“So for me, it’s not about me having cancer,” Andretti said. “It’s about other people not getting cancer and people getting screened early and understanding the value of getting screened early. Ironically, you probably should never get colon cancer in a lot of ways; 90 percent chance that you won’t if you were screened early.

“We’re pushing people to do that because obviously, it’s a whole lot easier to get a colonoscopy ever several years than to go through this, which is life changing for me, anyway, and I think for most people because you spend half your time in the hospital.”

Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S., with 95,000 new cases in 2016 alone, according to Carolinas HealthCare System. Dr. Karis Kremers with CHS’ Levine Cancer Institute said the disease is more common in those older than 50, but it can occur in younger patients, as well.

People with a family history of colon cancer, those with chronic inflammatory bowel disease or anyone experienced symptoms such as rectal bleeding or abdominal pain should screen before the normal recommended age of 50.

Screening has two purposes, Kremers said, the first of which is to detect colon cancer early.

“Part of the key to cure is detecting it early, and if it’s detected while it’s small and hasn’t spread, then there’s a much higher chance of cure,” she said. “The other purpose of colonoscopy is actually to remove precancerous polyps. Most cancer is formed or occurs out of a precancerous polyp, and if you remove it before it turns into cancer, then obviously that’s the best situation.”

Kremers said many patients avoid or put off their colonoscopy out of a fear of the procedure itself, but she said they weren’t as bad as the anxiety leading up to one.

“I’ve had several of them done, and they’re quite tolerable,” she said. “It’s just very important to do this to prevent he cancer itself and prevent it from being detected at a late stage.”

Andretti is living proof of that.

The racecar driver said he asked about colonoscopies at his various physicals but never got around to scheduling one until his wife went in for hers this past January; he was 53.

“I never avoided it because of any reason,” he said. “It just wasn’t on my radar. And January’s the only time that I can really do things because I get really involved in my son racing and other things. This year my daughter’s getting married, so I’ve got a lot of other things going on.”

The results came back almost immediately, and two days after the screening Andretti went in for surgery.

This article was sourced from Independant Tribune. Click here to read the full story.

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