Colorectal cancer rising amongst the young

Cancer in the young is still a novel concept. Photo credit: Steve Davis

by Kat Pooprasert

A new finding by the American Cancer Society shows that the rate of colorectal cancer amongst the young adults (younger than fifty years) has been on the rise in recent years in the United States. This was unprecedented as colorectal cancer has always been a disease associated with increasing age, and is more common in those fifty years and older.

Researchers found that three in 10 colorectal cancer diagnoses now occur among those under 55 and the rates among young and middle-aged adults have returned to what they were for those born around 1890.

It is well known that few under fifty are diagnosed with colorectal cancer but since 2000, the incidence has rise from 5.9 new cases per 100,000 people to 7.2 per 100,000 in 2013. In fact, in those under fifty, there has been a twenty two percent increase in US colorectal cancer incidence rate between 2000 and 2013 and a thirteen percent increase in colorectal cancer death rate. Surprisingly, this rise was contrasted with the falling rates of colon and rectal tumors and deaths in those fifty and older. However, in those fifty and older, there has been a thirty two percent decrease in incidence between 2000 and 2013. Additionally, there has been a thirty four percent decrease in colorectal cancer death rate in those fifty and older.

“People born in 1990 now have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950,” says Rebecca Siegel, MPH, of the American Cancer Society.

Despite this, overall colorectal cancer incidence and death rates are on the decline. This drop is mainly due to decreased smoking and red meat consumption and an increase in aspirin usage, a drug that can treat inflammation and spur tumor growth. All of this is also coupled with improvements in screening and treatment methods.

Researcher proposed that the increased incidence in the young is mainly due to the increased prevalence of obesity, unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyle, all of which are strong risk factors for the development of the disease. Rebecca Siegel describes that “the increase we’re now seeing is likely related to the obesity epidemic.” Further, she says that “there are delays in diagnosis because younger people aren’t aware of symptoms of cancer and their primary care doctors aren’t thinking about it in their younger patients”.

To combat with these troubling statistics, Siegel emphasized that screening should start at age 50 for an average-risk individual and at age 40 for those with a family history of colorectal cancer or adenomas in a first-degree relative.

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