Recent studies of the rate of colorectal cancer have found an unexpected increase in the rates in younger adults (those under age 55).
The incidence of colorectal cancer, tracked by individual date of birth, showed a decline until year of birth 1950, when it started to rise. 30% of new colorectal cancer cases are now diagnosed in people younger than 55 years of age; and a larger percentage of younger people diagnosed with colorectal cancer today are being diagnosed with rectal cancer.
For those under 50, there has been:
- A 22 percent increase in the US colorectal cancer incidence rate between 2000 and 2013, and
- A 13% increase in the colorectal cancer death rate.
Contributing factors are posited to include:
- The obesity epidemic
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Unhealthy diets
- Increasing alcohol consumption
These patients are also at higher risk for being diagnosed at a later stage, due to
- Lack of awareness of the warning signs in younger people (rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, change in bowel habits, cramping pain in the lower abdomen)
- Lack of awareness of the risk by primary care doctors, and attribution of symptoms to statistically more likely benign causes
- Routine screening not generally recommended for most people under 50.
- Greater likelihood of being uninsured.
The colorectal cancer incidence rate for those aged 50 and above is still higher than for those under 50 years of age, but, interestingly, the rates for people in this age group actually declined from 2000 to 2013 (possibly due to greater awareness and access to screening in this group and more access to insurance under the Affordable Care Act).
Experts caution that this finding may not be deserving of a large amount of attention at this time. The overall rate of incidence and death rates from colorectal cancer is still declining, probably due to decreases in smoking, red meat consumption, and the increase of aspirin use (calming inflammation which encourages tumor growth). Additionally, it is still an uncommon diagnosis for people under the age of 50, and there has been, to date, no change in the American Cancer Society screening recommendations (begin screening at age 50).
The final take away is still the same; know the warning signs. And, as Dave Barry so memorably urged, don’t delay getting screened simply because “The idea of having another human, even a medical human, becoming deeply involved in what is technically known as your “behindular zone” gives you the creeping willies…..just do it.”
- Medscape, Dramatic Rise in Colorectal Cancer in Younger Adults, Feb 28, 2017, Veronica Hackethal.
- Science News, Colorectal cancer is on the rise among younger adults, March 1, 2017, Tina Hesman Saey.
- American Cancer Society, Dr. Len’s Blog, Feb 28, 2017, J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP.
- The Miami Herald, Dave Barry: A journey into my colon-and yours; Feb 11, 2009, Dave Barry.