In recent years, colorectal cancer has seen a rise in younger patients. Worse, the majority of cases are in advanced stages and researchers don’t know what is causing them.
New statistics from the American Cancer Society show that the colorectal cancer rate in those under 55 years old has doubled from 11% to 22% between 1995 and 2019.
This means that of the approximately 1.3 million Americans with colorectal carcinoma in the United States, about 273,800 were under 55 years old.
A 2017 study that was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed that people born after 1990, or Gen Zers, are twice as likely be diagnosed with colon cancer than those born in 1950.
These numbers continue to rise at an alarming pace. In JAMA’s 2021 study, it was estimated that colorectal cancer would be the leading cause for cancer death in people aged 20 to 49 within seven years.
“This contrasts with people over 50 who are eligible to screening, where rates have been steadily decreasing for many decades,” Dr. Kimmie Nag, director at the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center, stated in an interview.
New statistics show that advanced-stage diagnosis rates are increasing rapidly in all colorectal cases across the U.S.A, jumping from 52% to 60% in the mid 2000s to 60% by 2019.
Ng stated that the majority of cases found in younger patients are advanced-stage cancers. Stage 4 or advanced cancer is a type of cancer that cannot be treated or does not go away completely. However, it can sometimes be managed.
Dr. Folasade P. May is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles Vatche Division of Digestive Diseases. “This type of cancer is especially asymptomatic, and can stay that way for quite a while,” she said. “The tumor can grow rapidly and spread even before symptoms are apparent.
Many young adults don’t know that colorectal carcinoma can occur to them. This may cause them to mistakenly think they are experiencing other symptoms. May stated.
Previous research has shown that misdiagnosis is common in young adults with colon cancer.
May stated, “When I was training as a physician, I was taught that this was an old man’s illness.” It’s now known that it affects people at the peak of their lives.
Why is colon carcinoma increasing in younger adults?
The increase in obesity is likely due to lifestyle factors such as younger people being more sedentary than before and food high in sugar and processed foods.
Ng stated in an interview that “it isn’t just about diet and lifestyle. There is something else.” “We see many colorectal patients in their twenties who have very healthy lifestyles.”
New data shows that the areas with the highest colorectal cancer rates are those where it is being diagnosed.
- Alaska Natives (88.5 per 100,000)
- Native Americans (46.0 for 100,000)
- Black Americans (41.7 for 100,000).
Between 2010 and 2019, colorectal carcinoma incidence rates rose across all racial/ethnic groups in the U.S.
Phillip Daschner, program director of the Division of Cancer Biology’s cancer immunology, blood and etiology Branch, said that genetics can play a part in colorectal cancer risks. However, only 25% of cases are in young people.
He said that 75% of the cases fell into the category of unknown causes.
May stated that the driver is most likely a combination environmental factors.
She said, “When something affects people who share their birth years, we know that it’s something in our environment that has caused this whole group to have higher rates.”
This phenomenon is known as the birth cohort effect.
Although it is not yet clear what environmental factors are involved, researchers are investigating everything from stress to plastics to antibiotics. There may be an environmental toxin linked to colorectal carcinoma.
Daschner stated, “The bottom line is that we don’t understand why this is happening.”
How do I screen for colon carcinoma?
Although colorectal cancer is rare in people under 50, the age at which a person should start screening has been lowered to 50.
Ng stated that the increase in cases among those younger than 55 years old cannot be attributed specifically to increased screening. Increased screening is not the reason for more advanced cases being diagnosed.
“If this were a screening effect, then we would expect to see more cases of localized disease.” Ng stated that this is not the case.
People between the ages of 45 and 49 are most likely to be diagnosed with young-onset colorectal carcinomas. This group will be more likely to be diagnosed with cancer due to the lower screening age. However, cases of cancers that are becoming more common in those in their 20s and 30s will likely not be noticed until the symptoms become severe.
It is important to research the root causes and risk factors. Ng stated that we need to target young people at high risk for screening earlier.
Colon cancer symptoms
Colorectal cancer is most commonly seen in the following symptoms:
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
- unintentional weight loss
- A change in your bowel habits.
- A warning sign could be anemia, fatigue, or shortness of breath.
Experts say that symptoms can look similar to other conditions. This is a problem for both doctors and patients. It is important to recognize warning signs if symptoms persist or do not improve, especially if more than one of them occurs.
Research shows that the 5-year survival rate is around 90% if detected early enough to prevent colon cancer from spreading.