After a battle with colon cancer that lasted several years, IndyCar and NASCAR driver John Andretti passed away on January 30, 2020. Since first receiving his diagnosis in 2017, John was never quiet about colon cancer, taking to social media outlets like Twitter to urge fans and followers to schedule colonoscopy appointments with their doctors, using the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti.
Colon cancer is currently the second-most deadly cancer in America because it is nearly impossible to detect without a colonoscopy. Patients rarely show signs of symptoms until cancer has passed into the later stages of the disease. John had said after being diagnosed that if he had scheduled his colonoscopy earlier, it might have saved his life, which is why he went public, in the hope of saving others.
The Hard Truths About Colon Cancer
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer don’t often present until cancer has reached the mid to late stages of the disease. Colon cancer has five stages, which range from 0 to IV, and from there, the stages are further divided into groupings. Many patients don’t often see symptoms until the later groupings of stage III, or stage IV colon cancer. Additionally, many symptoms of colon cancer are generic and also mimic symptoms of other GI disturbances, such as diarrhea and/or constipation, weakness or fatigue, and unexplained weight loss. Symptoms patients should be hyper-aware of include any instances of blood in the stool, or a feeling that the bowel doesn’t empty completely. Generally, if you experience any GI disturbances for a week or more, you should seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
What Are the Colon Cancer Stages?
John Andretti was diagnosed in 2017 with stage IV colon cancer, which carries a 10 percent chance of survival. Initially, doctors misdiagnosed him with a stage III-A diagnosis, which carries a much more hopeful ~40 percent chance of survival. Stages and survival rates include:
- Stage I: 80 to 95 percent
- Stage II: 55 to 80 percent
- Stage III: 40 percent
- Stage IV: 10 percent
As cancer progresses to stage IV, often cancer begins to spread to other organs in the body, which is known as “metastasizing.” In John’s case, after a round of chemotherapy, he was deemed cancer-free by late 2017, but cancer returned in mid-2018. He endured another round of chemo, and doctors had hope again; however, cancer returned and metastasized in 2019. Once any form of cancer spreads to other organs, it is unfortunately often fatal.
Why Is Early Detection Important?
Early detection is vitally essential so that colon cancer is discovered before it progressed to stage III or stage IV. When John was tested, he was age 54. In 2017, the suggested age for the first colonoscopy for both men and women was age 50, so he was four years overdue. He was vocal about his lateness after his diagnosis, and he was very open about colon cancer, urging fans and social media followers to get their colonoscopies on time.
The next year, in May 2018, the American Cancer Society reduced the suggested guidelines from age 50 to age 45 for both men and women for their first colonoscopy. This means you should schedule your first colonoscopy by age 45. The ACA lowered the threshold because of so many younger people - such as John - being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Colonoscopy is the gold standard for testing because it is an extremely accurate diagnostic that can alert your physician to any cancerous polyps either in the colon or rectum. Take-home colon cancer kits have grown in popularity in recent years, but not only do they lack some accuracy, they cannot do the one thing that colonoscopy is best at, and that is also to remove cancer that is discovered. Colonoscopy is the only diagnostic that can detect and remove cancer during the same procedure. If your physician finds cancerous polyps, he or she can remove them during your colonoscopy. Had John scheduled his appointment for several years or maybe even several months earlier, doctors may have been able to remove the polyps before the cancer spread.
John’s Early Life and Racing Career
Long before his diagnosis, John Andretti was a champion racer who was born into the already world-renowned Andretti Racing Family. John was born March 12, 1963, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Aldo and Corky Andretti. His father Aldo was a local race car driver, and John’s uncle was Mario Andretti, known the world over for his driving. It didn’t take long for John to start driving, and he started early with karting. In 1983, he began racing with USAC midgets and would race IMSA prototypes for the next four years. In 1986, he found a partner in Davy Jones for the IMSA GTP season and ended up winning at Watkins Glen.
IndyCar and NASCAR Career
Andretti didn’t stay long on the IMSA circuit and joined the IndyCar CART series in 1987 and won the Rookie of the Year award. In 1991, he placed fifth in the Indy 500, which would end up being his career-best. He began competing in NASCAR races starting in 1993 and would shift back and forth between IndyCar and NASCAR throughout the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. In 1993, he became the first driver in history to race both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on the same day; however, he had to exit the Coca-Cola 600 due to engine failure. He was still competing in quite a few races as the 2000s came to a close, and teamed up with Richard Petty for some events for the 2010-2011 racing season, including an appearance in the centennial Indy 500. Following 2011, he retired from racing.
Following retirement, Andretti stayed close to Indianapolis to be with his wife and family and co-hosted a NASCAR radio show on Sirius XM Radio with John Kernan called The Driver’s Seat. Also, each year, John would team up with a local radio station and Dave "The King" Wilson for the “Race for Riley” to raise funds for the local Riley Children’s hospital. John is survived by his wife Nancy, and three children Jarett, Olivia and Amelia.
Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment at GIA. Learn more about colonoscopy here.