Colon cancer climbs in people under 50

A preliminary new study shows colon cancer rates have increased by 11.4 percent in people 50 or younger.  This is despite the fact that the overall rate of the disease in individuals 50 and older decreased by 3 percent in the last decade.  

The findings were presented at Digestive Health Week 2016, a gathering of physicians, researchers, and academics in the field of gastroenterology.

More than 1 million colorectal cancer patient records were examined over 10 years showing that the rise of colon cancer in younger people translated to approximately an average increase of 1.28 percent per year or 136 new cases every additional year.  In contrast, colon cancer rates in patients 50 or older fell by 2.5 percent.  The younger patients also had a higher incidence of more advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis than the older group. 

Even though the overwhelming majority of colorectal cancers occur in people over the age of 50, this study finds that colon cancer appears to be on the rise in younger people.  Colon and rectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.  It is estimated more than 134,000 new cases will be found in 2016.  Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, second only to lung cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the development of cancer from the colon or rectum.  It is due to the abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to spread to other parts of the body.  Signs and symptoms may include blood in the stool, a change in bowel movements, weight loss, and feeling tired all the time.

One of the concerns that the study points out is that much effort has been done to address colorectal cancer screenings in people over 50 such as increasing awareness, but it appears much more needs to be done to fight this disease in people under 50.  Another concern was the fact that a higher percentage of the younger age group are being diagnosed at advanced stages (stage 3 or 4). 

A ray of hope is that new screening guidelines are taking into account the findings from this study that may have an impact on updating what is recommended for people 50 and under in screening for colon cancer.  Currently, guidelines do recommend for people 50 and under to have colonoscopy screenings if they have a family history of colon cancer such as a parent or sibling who either had a malignant tumor or benign tumors called adenomas or polyps in the colon.

Speculation as to why colon cancer rates are climbing in younger people is the possibility of higher obesity rates and changes in dietary habits.

The American Cancer Society does recommend the following ways to protect your colon health by how you eat:

·         Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as they have been linked with a decreased risk of colon cancer.  Reduce intake of red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, luncheon meats, bacon, and sausage).

·         Get regular exercise and watch your weight as being overweight or obese increases the risk of colon cancer.

Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks a day for a man and no more than 1 drink a day for a woman.  Heavy drinking is associated with increasing the development of colon cancer.