If you are under 50, chances are you probably aren’t worried about colorectal cancer. But a number of recent studies suggest that while the incidence of the disease is decreasing in those over 50, it is increasing in young and middle-age adults.
“This is a troubling trend,” said James Yoo, MD, Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Tufts Medical Center. “The fact that this disease is hitting younger people, long before they are likely to be screened, means we are much less likely to catch the cancer early, when it is most treatable.”
The study, published in the February 28, 2017 Journal of the National Cancer Institute, looked at the records of 500,000 men and women 20 years and older with colorectal cancer from 1974-2013. In those between the ages of 20-39, colon cancer incidences increased between one and two percent each year. In those 40 – 54, incidences increased between a half-percent and one percent per year. Increases in rectal cancer rates were even bigger – averaging three percent in the younger group each year.
Not only are rates increasing in young people, another study found deaths are increasing in this younger age group as well. The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that up until 2004, deaths decreased. But then rates began to increase slightly each year – climbing from 3.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to 4.3 deaths per 100,000 in 2014.
“We don’t know what is causing this increase,” said Dr. Yoo. “It’s more important than ever that young people look for symptoms and understand the risk factors of the disease.”
Symptoms include rectal bleeding, anemia, change in bowel habits, weight loss and ongoing abdominal pain, he said. Those at greater risk for colorectal cancer include those who are overweight, not physically active, eat a poor diet, smoke, and drink alcohol excessively. People with certain conditions such as diabetes, chronic inflammatory bowel disease or a family history or colorectal cancer are also at greater risk.
“Part of the problem is that younger patients and their physicians tend to dismiss symptoms that would automatically trigger an evaluation in an older patient,” said Dr. Yoo. “Symptoms need to be taken seriously, regardless of age.”
Dr. Yoo suggests younger people can help prevent colorectal cancer by exercising, eating a healthy diet and not smoking.
Posted March 2018
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