Rates of colorectal cancer have been declining for older adults, but that good trend is tempered by some bad news.
Rates of colorectal cancer have been declining for older adults, but that good trend is tempered by some bad news: There’s a sharp rise in the cancer for younger people, even in those as young as their 20s.
Compared to people born around 1950—when colorectal cancer risk was lowest—those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer, a new study from the American Cancer Society (ACS) found.
In fact, three in 10 rectal cancer diagnoses are now in patients younger than 55. And that’s a problem, sincecolon cancer screening is not recommended until age 50.
Now, the majority of colorectal cancers still occur in those over age 50—only about 10 percent are found in younger people—but the rates for that latter group are rising dramatically, according to lead author Rebecca Siegel, M.P.H., an epidemiologist with the ACS.
The reasons aren’t clear quite yet, but she suggests that behavioral factors may be partly responsible for the rise. Some factors that increase your risk of colorectal cancer include excess body weight, sedentary behavior, high consumption of red meat, and low consumption of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
Those same factors are also ones that can cause you to pack on the pounds, so it’s no surprise that the rise in colorectal cancer parallels the obesity epidemic.
That supports the theory that the same issues driving the rising obesity trend—like being less physically active and eating less healthily—may also be responsible for the uptick in colon cancer rates.
While the study finds an alarming rise in cancer rates in young people, it’s likely not enough by itself to change national screening guidelines. Still, Siegel notes that an American Cancer Society committee is currently reviewing recommendations.
Screening advice has to strike a balance between maximizing the benefit of screening while minimizing harm, she adds.
In the meantime, she urges people to know the symptoms of colorectal cancer—such as blood in the stool or rectum, cramping, and changes in bowel patterns lasting for several days.
Plus, people with a parent or sibling who has had a polyp should begin screening by at least age 40, Siegel says, as well as those with a family history of the cancer. It’s also advisable to get screened if you’ve had inflammatory bowel disease, since that can increase colorectal cancer risk.