New Study Shows Sharp Rise in Colorectal Cancers Among Young Adults

Posted March 01, 2017

Rectal cancer rates climbed even faster in recent decades, at about 3 percent per year for people in their 20s and 30s and 2 percent annually for those ages 40 to 54. "We wanted to take a deeper dive into these trends", Siegel said.

In the study, the researchers looked at data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, a government registry of cancer diagnoses.

To get a better understanding, investigators led by Rebecca Siegel, MPH of the American Cancer Society used "age-period-cohort modeling", a quantitative tool created to disentangle factors that influence all ages, such as changes in medical practice, from factors that vary by generation, typically due to changes in behavior. For people aged 40 to 54, the rates increased between.5 percent and one percent from the mid 1990s to 2013.

They found that people born in the 1990s are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer as people born in the middle of the last century.

Conversely, in adults 55 and over, rates of rectal cancer have generally been declining for at least 40 years, even before widespread screening.

"It is very sobering, very concerning", said Rebecca Siegel, who led the research for the ACS. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to get enough fiber, focus on healthy habits-and brush up on the early warning signs of colon and rectal cancers.

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For starters, he said, "Although relative rates are rising in younger people, the absolute risk is still low in the younger population". "We have to do more for this generation - starting with the message to the public, to the medical community, to legislators and to everyone who will listen - that you're never too young for colorectal cancer".

"Obesity raises the risk of colorectal cancer, but if that were the sole cause, then we wouldn't expect to see it until 10 to 20 years after obesity gained momentum". But what's more startling is that this isn't a surprise to anyone within our community - the data around this issue has been here since 2012, when we brought in experts from across the country for the nation's first young-onset symposium and released the breakthrough white paper highlighting this disturbing trend.

In addition, the authors suggest that the age to initiate screening people at average risk may need to be reconsidered.

Rates of colorectal cancer, which overall have been declining for decades in the United States, are instead rising sharply among young and middle-aged adults, according to a new study that startled researchers and is sparking questions about whether screening should start earlier than age 50. But now, researchers have found that a cancer that was believed to mostly affect those over the age of 50 has been spiking in young adults.

Most young adults are tested only after symptoms develop, "and usually by the time you have symptoms, the disease is more advanced", Siegel said.