23andMe and Colorectal Cancer Alliance logos

23andMe and the Alliance team up on cancer research

23andMe and Colorectal Cancer Alliance logos

One of the tragedies of colorectal cancer is that although it is often preventable with screening and has a high survival rate when caught early, many are not getting screened, making colorectal cancer the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

What’s more, colorectal cancer disproportionately impacts Black and African Americans, who tend to experience earlier onset and worse outcomes. Black and African American individuals have the second-highest mortality and incidence rates of colorectal cancer in the U.S. They are 35 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer and 15 percent more likely to develop it than non-Hispanic white Americans. 

The Collaboration

A new collaboration between 23andMe and the non-profit Colorectal Cancer Alliance aims to raise awareness, encourage screening, and help people better understand their risks. 

As part of 23andMe’s Genetic Insights into Colorectal Cancer in the Black Community study, we’re working with Colorectal Cancer Alliance to recruit Black and African Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer as a way to improve polygenic risk scores used to flag heightened risk for colorectal cancer.

“We developed this study on colorectal cancer in the Black community to improve reports for Black and African Americans looking to learn more about their genetic likelihood of developing colorectal cancer,” said Anjali Shastri, Ph.D., principal program manager at 23andMe, Lead for diversity programs and advocacy partnerships for research. “We hope to develop and provide a genetic report to help the Black community learn more about their chances of developing this condition.” 

Early detection and treatment offer the most hope for success for those with colorectal cancer and screening can also help prevent cancers from developing. However, current polygenic risk scores for colorectal cancer perform poorly for Black and African American individuals. 23andMe, with the help of Colorectal Cancer Alliance, hopes to pull in enough data from research participants to improve those risk models and provide meaningful reports for its Black and African American customers. 

Colorectal Cancer Alliance works toward increasing awareness about the importance of screening and removing the stigma around talking about colorectal cancer. 

More About Colorectal Cancer

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells divide and grow out of control. Colorectal cancer occurs in colon or rectum cells encompassing the large intestine. Most colorectal cancers start as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. These growths are called polyps. 

Most polyps are not cancerous, but certain types can turn cancerous over time. With screening, colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing polyps before they have a chance to develop into cancer. While these typically are slow-growing, left untreated, these cancerous cells can spread beyond the colon or rectum through the blood and into the lymphatic system. 

Like many forms of cancers, a complex mix of genetics, environment, age, diet, and lifestyle influence whether someone develops colorectal cancer. 

In a few types of hereditary conditions, such as Lynch syndrome and MUTYH-associated polyposis, genetics plays an outsized role. But such things as a diet low in fiber and high in fat, or that includes too much processed meats and not enough fruits and vegetables, or a lack of exercise, or simply being overweight can all contribute to a higher risk for colorectal cancer. A healthy diet, reducing alcohol consumption, stopping smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower one’s risk for the disease.

Current guidelines suggest routine screening beginning at the age of 45, but a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors may call for earlier screening. 

Although the majority of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 50 and the overall rate of colorectal cancers has declined in the last few decades, a recent study by scientists with the American Cancer Society indicated that rates for those under the age of 55 have gone up. It’s become a leading cause of cancer-related death for men under 50, and second leading for women under 50. 

23andMe scientists are hoping to help change that by recruiting Black and African Americans in the United States who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer and are willing to participate in our research. 

23andMe’s Colorectal Cancer Study

Like 23andMe has done with Sarcoidosis, where the lack of diversity in genetic data prompted the company to recruit people from the Black and African American community, we are again reaching out to that community, but this time with the help of Colorectal Cancer Alliance, all with the goal of improving representation on colorectal cancer.

This research study is recruiting Black and African American individuals who are 18 years or older, live in the United States, and have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Individuals who participate in this research study will have the option to access health reports through a 23andMe+ Premium membership at no-cost. 

This new research study is part of our continued efforts to raise awareness about important health conditions that affect many individuals but disproportionately impact the Black and African American communities. 

Questions? You can read Frequently Asked Questions here or get in touch with us at crc-study@23andme.com

You can learn more about Genetic Insights into Colorectal Cancer in the Black Community here. 

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