New data presented by the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute indicates that people born in 1990 are two times more likely to develop colon cancer and four times more likely to develop rectal cancer than people born in 1950. These findings are quite surprising, given that 90 percent of new colon cancer cases occur in adults over the age of 50.
Colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates in older adults have dropped significantly over the past few decades. Researchers credit this progress in part to improved screening rates, which can detect the presence of colon polyps before they become cancerous. However, routine screenings are not generally recommended for adults under the age of 50, which means that young-onset colon cancer often goes undetected during its earliest, most treatable stages.
Rebecca Siegel, lead study author and epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, said they have not yet identified the cause of this sharp increase in younger individuals. She did, however, point out that the rise in obesity mirrors trends in colon cancer. Certain factors associated with obesity, such as poor diet and sedentary behavior, are also risk factors for colon cancer, which could offer some explanation.
This study is not the first to detect a rise in young-onset colon cancer. Dr. George J. Chang, chief of colorectal surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, predicted two years ago that one in 10 colon cancers and one in four rectal cancers would be diagnosed in adults under the age of 50 by the year 2030.
The American Cancer Society is currently reviewing colorectal cancer screening guidelines to determine whether any changes need to be made (Source: CNN). However, young adults can still take preventive steps to reduce their colon cancer risk even if they are not eligible for screening. These steps include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting intake of red meats or processed meats
- Not smoking
- Recognizing colon cancer symptoms, such as changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain or blood in the stool