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Written by George Citroner
Despite an overall decline in rates for colorectal cancer, doctors are seeing a dramatic increase in the disease among young adults
Researchers at the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute have found that those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950, CNN reported.
Between 1990 and 2013, the proportion of colorectal cancer in those younger than 55 nearly doubled from about 15 percent to 29 percent.
Data also revealed that age-specific colorectal cancer risk for people nowadays has escalated back to the level of those born in the 1890s.
Nearly one-third of rectal cancer patients between 1974 and 2013 were younger than 55. However, until recently, routine screening was generally not recommended for individuals under 50, resulting in cancers being detected at more advanced stages.
It was in 2021 when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommendation for people to begin screening five years earlier. Now, according to the Task Force, all adults between ages 45 and 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer, even if they don’t have any risk factors or symptoms.
The number of stage 4 colorectal cancer cases is rising at an alarming rate. Advanced or stage 4 cancer has typically spread to other areas and often can’t be cured or won’t resolve entirely with treatment.
A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that in just seven years, colorectal cancer will become the leading cause of cancer deaths in people aged 20 to 49. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the United States, colorectal cancer is already the leading cause of cancer death among men under 50 and the third leading cause of cancer death among women under 50.
What’s causing this increase isn’t understood now, but theories suggest poor diet and insufficient exercise are contributing factors.
Four ‘Red Flags’ of Colorectal Cancer You Should Not Ignore
“Patients can go years without knowing they have colon cancer with minimal to no symptoms,” Dr. Henry Jen, a gastroenterologist at Northwell Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, told The Epoch Times.
“Symptoms can also be subtle and easy to ignore,” he added. “Once severe symptoms arise, such as abdominal swelling, rapid weight loss, or jaundice, the cancer may have already spread to other areas of the body.”
A study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute analyzed health insurance data from more than 5,000 patients diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer and found that these patients experienced four common symptoms between three months and two years before diagnosis:
- Abdominal pain: Cancer in the large intestine could affect bowel habits, which can lead to cramping and bloating.
- Rectal bleeding: Large, potentially cancerous intestinal polyps can bleed into the gut.
- Diarrhea: This can be caused by a tumor leaking fluid or overflow around the tumor.
- Iron deficiency anemia: This can be caused by factors that include malabsorption of food, tumor-induced anorexia, and malnutrition.
Each symptom is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in people younger than 50. Researchers observed that having just one of these symptoms nearly doubled the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Experiencing two symptoms increased the risk by over 3.5 times, and three or more of these symptoms increased the cancer risk by more than 6.5 times.
“It usually takes about three months to get a diagnosis from the time a person first goes to the doctor with one or more of the red-flag signs and symptoms we’ve identified,” Dr. Cassandra D. L. Fritz, co-author of the study and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology at the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, said in a statement.
Risk Factors for Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer
Two rare genetic disorders increase the risk of early-onset colorectal cancer: hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome, also known as Lynch syndrome, and familial adenomatous polyposis.“But these only account for a small proportion of colon cancers,” said Jen. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) finds these genetic factors are responsible for only 2 to 5 percent of cases.
“A lot of the main risk factors for colon cancer have more to do with lifestyle factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, smoking, excess alcohol use, and unhealthy diets,” he added. “I believe that these issues have played a large part in the rise in early-onset colon cancers.”
A 2022 study found about 11 percent of colorectal cancers in Europe can be attributed to overweight and obesity and that obesity is associated with a 30 to 70 percent increased risk of colon cancer in men.
“I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the rise in the obesity epidemic has corresponded to the rise in earlier-onset colon cancers,” Jen said.
Other risk factors include lack of exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and inflammatory bowel disease.
What Younger People Can Do to Reduce Their Risk
“Other than lifestyle changes, like increasing exercise and eating healthy diets high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed meats, I think it’s important to recognize and seek medical attention for any potential signs and symptoms of colon cancer,” Jen said.
He pointed out that it’s easy to ignore or downplay symptoms like unintentional weight loss, abdominal pain, bloody stools, and changes in bowel habits when you’re young. “But they may be early signs that something is wrong,” he cautioned.
Although the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening is now 45, individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer may need screening even earlier, according to Jen.
“Regular colon cancer screening with either stool testing, colonoscopy, or virtual colonoscopy is also so important in diagnosing colon cancer,” Jen said. “Especially because many patients will not have any symptoms at all.”
See more here theepochtimes
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