Colorectal cancer is on the rise in younger adults

Colorectal cancer is an ailment commonly thought to be for a certain age group of people, for patients over 50 years in most cases. However, in recent times, the cancer has been spotted in more and more younger adults, even those in their 30s and 20s. This medical trend has now been of some concern to medical professionals.

Confirmed in a new study done by the University of Texas Austin, the cancer diagnosis reveals that younger adults are more likely to have the disease and that the numbers are rising. After assessing data from the National Cancer Database Registry, it was discovered that about 12.2% of patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. were under the age of 50 years old.

Colorectal cancer is cancer that affects the colon or the rectum. The cancer starts as polyps, mutated cells, begin to grow. Within a few years the polyps can morph into adenomatous (adenomas), which can change into cancer or they can morph into hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps, which are more common and not pre-cancerous. The different type of cancers formed ranges from Carcinoid tumours, Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), Lymphomas and Sarcomas. In the European Union, about 3.3% of men and 2.6% of women die from the cancer, a low number compared to others like lung or breast cancer. Nonetheless, the excessive increase of 51% of younger colorectal patients is still alarming.

Tests have yet to show the reason behind this recent discovery. Physicians in the U.S. have speculated that it could be due to alterations of bacteria living in the gut or perhaps the increase in the number of people being obese or overweight. Dr. Chyke A. Doubeni, an active member of the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force reiterated her concerns for further rigorous research;

Because the number of colorectal cancer cases from inherited causes are much higher in younger individuals, it is unknown whether screening for sporadic cases in a group with such low disease rate can result in a favorable balance of harms and benefits”.

Despite this, doctors still believe that early screening or other preventative measures must be continuously explored while further tests are underway. Individuals should not wait for symptoms as they can be slow. A recent survey in 2019 by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance showed that 63% of respondents had waited 3 to 12 months to seek medical help because the signs of colorectal cancer were unrecognized or were ignored. Patients with a hereditary past of such a cancer, need to stay alert to stay proactive as early detection can save lives.

References:

  1. Colon Cancer, Mayo Clinic
  2. Colorectal cancer rates rising in younger adults. July 2019, Medical News Today
  3. More Young Adults Getting Colorectal Cancer, Dying From It, June 2019, WebMd
  4. Cancer Statistics,  July 2018, Eurostat