Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer here in the United States, and the second leading cause of cancer death. According to statistics compiled from the American Cancer Society, it’s predicted that 149,500 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 52,980 people will die from it this year alone. Despite the prevalence of colorectal cancer, there is still limited funding compared to other cancer research as well as large gaps in knowledge and understanding of this particular illness.
Join me in conversation with Andrea Goodman, the Vice President of Patient Support and Research Strategy at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. Andrea shares more about the objectives of the Alliance and the work they’re doing to equip everyone to support their own colon health as well as the colon health of their loved ones.
Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Andrea.
Highlights from Today’s Episode
- Who the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is, and their mission.
- The importance of the Alliance and their objectives.
- How the Alliance helps the patient population.
- Colorectal cancer research efforts that are currently underway.
- Progress on finding a cure.
- How the alliance is using recent funding to address racial disparities in colon health.
Selected Articles and Research Discussed
- Rutter et al. 2021. Black and White Differences in Colorectal Cancer Screening and Screening Outcomes: A Narrative Review. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 30(1): 3-12.
- Brandzel et al. 2017. Latina and Black/African American Women’s Perspectives on Cancer Screening and Cancer Screening Reminders. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. 4:1000-1008.
- Live support on a toll-free hotline: 877-422-2030
- Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures from cancer.org
Industry Spotlight: Colorectal Cancer Alliance
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance exists to end colon cancer. The mission of the Alliance is to empower a nation of allies to provide support for patients and families, caregivers, and survivors; to raise awareness of preventive measures; and inspire efforts to fund critical research. Their three main strategic goals are all aimed at ending colon cancer through screening, caring, and curing: 1) save 100,000 lives through awareness and prevention by 2029; 2) increase the number of patients and families served to 750,000 annually by 2024; and 3) commit $30 million to innovative and life-saving research by 2024.
Learn More: CCAlliance.org
About the Colon Health Podcast
Co-hosted by Dr. Dac Teoli and Ariel Bridges, the Colon Health Podcast features guest interviews with expert physicians, leading researchers, nutritional scientists, integrative health specialists, and other foremost experts in colon health.
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Ariel: Hello, everybody. You may have recognized that this is not the voice of Dr. Dac, but my name is Ariel Bridges. I’m going to be filling in for him this week on the “Colon Health Podcast.” I’ll share a little bit more about who I am and why I’m here later on. But I wanted to go ahead and jump into this week’s interview. I’m super excited to have a special guest here from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. I’m going to go ahead and let her introduce herself. But, hello. How are you?
Andrea: Hi, Ariel. Thank you so much for having me and having the Alliance on the podcast. I’m Andrea Goodman, and I am the Vice President of Patient Support and Research Strategy at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.
Ariel: Awesome. Andrea, we are so, so excited to have you here this week. Just to start out, can you just share what is the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and what are some of the objectives of the Alliance?
Andrea: Yeah, sure. Thanks for asking. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is the largest and the most impactful nonprofit organization dedicated to ending colorectal cancer in our lifetime. And what that means is that we help people really across the continuum. So we have programs to prevent colorectal cancer and for people to understand their colon health. We have programs to care for those who have been diagnosed and who are seeking treatment and their caregivers and then in survivorship. And then we fund innovative research towards a cure. Actually, we empower a nation of allies, we call it. So our robust communities to join us in that mission through volunteer opportunities. They offer each other peer support, get involved in events, and fundraising, and other activities. So really, a very complete and full portfolio of programs that we offer anyone who’s kind of on this journey.
And then the other part of your question is on our objectives. So we have some really exciting objectives. One is to save 100,000 lives through awareness and prevention by 2029, which I feel very confident that we’ll be accomplishing. We aim to increase the number of patients and families that we serve to 750,000 by 2024. And we are committing to $30 million in research by 2024. So they’re really big, ambitious numbers. But we are doing a lot of work here. So we support payment for colonoscopies. And we’ve reached 45 million people during our recent screening during COVID-19 campaign. And we’ve already served more than two million patients and caregivers and invested close to $5 million in research. So really excited about all the progress, but we’re doing it because colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women combined in the U.S. So a lot of work to be done and we have about 1.4 million people who are living in the U.S with this disease. And we want to make sure that nobody faces it alone. That’s what we’re here for. And we have a variety of different programs to support the people who are going through it.
Ariel: This is absolutely incredible. You’re helping so many people and you really do cover all parts of the process no matter where people are at. That is really exciting and awesome to hear. I know after the death of Chadwick Boseman, I saw there’s a spike and people kind of Googling colon cancer and wanting to better understand what’s happening. So I think it’s awesome that you are an organization that provides all of these resources for people no matter where they’re at in the process. You touched on this a little bit, but what kind of research efforts are currently underway within the Alliance?
Andrea: Thanks for asking that question. So colorectal cancer is actually uniquely preventable, and you might know that. So that’s one of our main focuses with screening of course. So about a third of eligible adults are not getting screened. So we support research tackling issues in colorectal cancer prevention and making sure that we’re moving screening forward. So that’s one of the key focuses. We’re also really focused on funding innovative research and really around researchers who are interested in pursuing those early stage projects or concepts that have a lot of potential for larger funding opportunity but are not quite eligible yet for National Cancer Institute and other funding opportunities on a federal level. So that’s where our $30 million commitment to innovative research by 2024 comes in.
And actually, I’m really proud to share that two of our projects recently have had success in this kind of early stage funding that has moved on to receive these really large grants. So we had one award. Dr. Joshua Smith, who we funded, is the principal investigator. And he received $250,000 from the Alliance in 2019 when he came to us with a proposal around rectal cancer organoids, which means that he created a new model for developing personalized treatments that he created in mice. So not only did he find success in his research with this model, but it’s something that could be rolled out to the entire scientific community. And he just received a $4.28 million award from the National Cancer Institute to continue the research that he’s conducting and the success that he’s seen. So that’s an example of the way in which the research funding that comes out of our organization has tremendous impact down the road.
And then another example is an investigator named Dr. Megan Hitchens, who we funded for $150,000 towards work in early colorectal cancer detection in the young individuals. A huge and really important need in the field to understand how we can better detect colorectal cancer earlier in life. And we’re seeing, of course, a huge increase in young onset cases. Her success from the research that she conducted and this blood based test went on to receive a recent $2.4 million award from the National Cancer Institute. There’s so much potential to come from their research efforts as a result of the smaller awards that they received from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. So really excited about all of the potential for us to keep doing that. And then the other thing I’d say about this is that colorectal cancer research is highly underfunded. I think very few people are aware of this and it’s something that’s a huge concern to us. For example, colorectal cancer gets about $4,500 from the National Cancer Institute per colorectal cancer death and breast cancer just for comparison receives over $13,000 comparatively. So we have a lot of concern about what that research landscape looks like and the ability to find a cure accordingly. And so the Alliance has a big role to play in making sure that these innovative concepts get funded and that we find answers to really important questions.
Ariel: Wow, that’s a very big difference. It’s incredible the amount of progress that the Alliance has been able to work towards and achieve in spite of those differences in funding. So that makes all of the findings that you all are coming across even more exciting. So it was interesting to me that you mentioned that colon cancer is uniquely preventable. And you mentioned kind of a little bit about how you really are working towards a cure. I’m curious to hear from your perspective in the work that the Alliance is doing since you all are very in touch and in tune with where things are at, what kind of progress is there for a cure for colon cancer?
Andrea: So there has been some progress in recent years. Personalized medicine has really changed the game. And we do have some therapeutics that are supporting different personalized treatment plans for patients. One of the main things that we’re sharing with patients today, if there’s anyone listening who has had a diagnosis and are planning what their treatments should look like, is to make sure that they talk to their doctor about biomarker testing. There’s been some advancement there that we’re putting a lot of energy behind and making sure that patients understand how to advocate for the best plan for themselves with their medical team. There’s a lot more work to be done. And we’ve seen a lot fewer advancements in colorectal than other cancers. So we will have a large focus moving forward on investing in research towards new therapeutics and personalized therapeutics in particular.
On the screening side, we’ve seen a lot of advancements. As I just mentioned, there’s like blood-based test options. So there’s a lot of really incredible innovative work going on in the field to study new diagnostics and making sure that we are…not just have the different tests and screenings available to people but also testing different ways to bring them to people so that adoption is better. And the Alliance is on the forefront of that as well. So we are making sure that we’re implementing them and that communities are aware of what’s available to them and that we’re really working with people to meet them where they are so that this isn’t such a burden and people feel confident about going about talking to their doctor about colorectal cancer screening and getting screened. So I would say on both sides, there’s been a lot of progress and we’re still hoping for a lot more.
Ariel: Yes, this all sounds really promising and very encouraging. Now is a good time for me to share a little bit more about myself and what brought me to the “Colon Health Podcast.” I am someone who worked in healthcare for five years and have my own slew of GI issues. My grandfather passed away from colon cancer when he was 45. And I am younger than 45. But as a result, I have already had two colonoscopies in my lifetime so far. Something that really excited me about the Colorectal Cancer Alliance is I saw on your site that the Alliance recently announced a $3.4 million investment to address health disparities earlier this summer. I took a look at your site and there was this stat that black Americans are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 40% more likely to die from it. And I took a little bit more time to look into this further and took a peek at two different studies which will be linked in the show notes.
But a study by Rutter et al. in 2021 showed that higher colorectal cancer incidence was found among black patients and are primarily driven by lower rates of colorectal cancer screening. And then in another study by Brandzel et al. in 2017, black and Latina women reported that they face multiple barriers to getting recommended cancer screening for themselves and community members due to lack of time, conflicting information about screening intervals, and a lack of understanding of the benefits of preventive care. You touched on a lot of the awesome things that the Alliance is doing within research efforts. I’d love to hear more about how this particular $3.4 million investment came to be and what is hoping to happen as a result of it.
Andrea: Yeah. Thanks so much for bringing this up, Ariel. It is also a really important initiative for the Alliance not just in terms of programs and impact but in terms of research. So actually, while we are, you know, really steeped in the evidence around how to change outcomes in the black community, we also know that there are some gaps in research knowledge and the Alliance is committed to finding those answers. So that’s another area of research around disparity that we’ll be committing to as part of that $30 million. So, yes, we know that the black community is disproportionately affected in colorectal cancer. Thank you for linking to those articles. There are a few different reasons that we know that are front and center. One is around differences in access to early detection and receiving timely, high quality treatments that gets us partially towards the 20% more diagnosis and 40% higher mortality.
Systemic racism that we know impacts access to care and trustworthiness of the medical system, as well as the implicit bias that’s happening in healthcare, so meaning attitudes or stereotypes that affect providers’ understanding or actions in their care environment. And comorbidities certainly play a role as well. One thing that the Alliance is committing to do for the colorectal cancer field is get a better understanding of what that pie looks like. So what portions, each of those variables, makes up the 20% and 40% and how can we create precision interventions that will make an impact accordingly? So when we better understand the data and how people and communities are being impacted, it’s easier for us to create the most efficient and effective interventions to help people. So we’re really committed to those research findings and also to changing the conversation around it.
The Alliance is really committed to playing our part in more equitable healthcare opportunities facing the challenge of stigma and misunderstanding around colorectal cancer screening. You might know from your own experience, a lot of times, there’s embarrassment around for colorectal cancer screening, you know, thinking that if you don’t feel sick, you’re not sick. That it’s an old person’s disease. But we have the help of a variety of different partners and we’re able to confront the challenges and navigate people to the right resources. So we’re doing this by making sure that people have access to free screenings. So we are disseminating screenings, both at-home screening kits and connecting people to colonoscopy. So thanks to Exact Sciences, LetsGetChecked, and Cottonelle with partner BLKHLTH . So they’ve invested a total of $2.4 million through the Alliance to fund those screenings and we know that we’re gonna see a big change as a result. So that’s one of the big parts of our community.
The other piece is around outreach and partnerships in the community. So we know that we don’t want this to just be like, oh, one time and done type of intervention. We really want to support relationships with communities so that we’re changing the conversation long-term around colorectal cancer risk and screening. So we have a robust partnership and coalition in Philadelphia with an awesome organizer on our team, Carla and Henry. We host the national conference that we call AllyCon that’s open to anyone who is interested in more information about our programs. Many of our patients and survivors and caregivers come to that event to learn more information. We host Facebook live events so that people can learn more about our service offerings. So a variety of different work that we’re doing in the community and for the community that I hope anyone listening will tap in to. And then we’re also funding research. Like I said, we’re really committed to understanding more about the pieces of that pie. And one of our current research grants by Dr. Guda is investigating all of the different mechanisms involved in tumor progression in African Americans that contribute to the colon cancer burden in that population. So we are learning really important lessons and knowledge about disparity that will contribute to the overall solutions as well. So I hope that helped answer your question.
Ariel: You went above and beyond. Thank you so much for sharing and again for being here as someone who again is directly impacted by a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about today. I think overall, it really is so encouraging and exciting to see all of the progress that’s being made and how much wonderful work that the Alliance is putting in to help again everybody no matter what stage you’re at. I would say, again, like Andrea mentioned, don’t be afraid to speak up and to inquire about your health and take advantage of these great resources that are available. Andrea, did you have any other kind of final parting words before we close things up?
Andrea: Yeah. Well, I mentioned a bunch of our programs, but just want to make sure listeners know that they can learn about anything I mentioned and more on our website. So that’s ccalliance.org. Anyone listening who is wondering if the screening is right for them and what the recommendation is for their specific circumstances can go to quiz.getscreened.org and get a personalized recommendation for them about colorectal cancer screening. And anyone who needs any live support, if they’ve been diagnosed, or any other kind of support can call our toll free helpline at 877-422-2030.
Ariel: Andrea, thank you so much for being here. I’ll make sure all of those links and that phone number are also below in the show notes so you can click them and access them easily. That is it, everybody. Thank you again so much for being here. I really appreciate it and loved learning more about the Alliance. Y’all are really doing some incredible, incredible things. Remember, everybody, we all have colons. Let’s take care of them. All right? We’ll talk to you soon. See you next time.
Andrea: Thank you so much for having me.