A new study reports that advanced-stage colon cancer in people under 50 is on the rise in the United States. Previous statistics showed that about 10 percent of all cancers of the colon and rectum occurred in people under 50, but the study suggests that this number is increasing at a rapid rate.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in the U.S.
when skin cancers are excluded. Approximately 95,270 cases of colon cancer and 39,220 cases of rectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2016 and could cause over 49,000 deaths. Men have a 4.7 percent lifetime risk of developing the disease. The risk for women is slightly lower at 4.4 percent. When both genders are considered together, colorectal cancers rank as the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
These statistics make the study, which was presented during the Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), more than a little unsettling. Researchers analyzed data from the U.
S. National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2010, tracking over a million people and noting colon cancer trends. They found that:
• Cancer rates in people under 50 rose 11.4 percent, just a little over 1 percent per year
• Approximately 136 new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed each year
• 31 percent of younger patients already had stage 3 cancer at the time of diagnosis
The results reinforce of another study previously published online that reported one in seven colon cancer patients were under the age of 50. Researchers in Canada have uncovered similar trends. Unfortunately, perhaps because most colon and rectal cancers still occur in older people, misdiagnosis and missed symptoms may delays proper identification of the disease in young patients anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the time.
Colon Cancer: Underlying Causes
There are many risk factors that increase the chances of developing colon cancer:
• Being overweight or obese
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Diets high in red meat and low in fiber
• Eating meat cooked at high temperatures
• Heavy drinking
• Personal or family history of colon polyps or cancer
• History of inflammatory bowel disease
• Rare genetic mutations or inherited syndromes[http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-risk-factors] • Diabetes
• Previous radiation treatment for other cancers[http://www.
Although the exact mechanisms involved in the links between these factors and the development of colon cancer isn’t completely understood, the underlying cause of all cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that become malignant due to damage.
Detecting a Growing Problem
The five-year survival rate for colon cancer can be as high as 92 percent if the disease is detected early. However, symptoms often don’t present until more advanced stages, making screening one of the most important tools a doctor has for increasing a patient’s chances of recovery. The later on the cancer is detected, the lower the survival rate. Extremely advanced cases may only offer an 11 percent chance of survival over the following five years.
A colonoscopy, in which a flexible scope with a camera on the end is inserted into the rectum following a bowel prep procedure, is the most common type of screening. Regular screenings of this type in people over 50 may be at least partly responsible for a noticeable drop in colon cancer rates among the aging population. In light of the new findings, doctors may begin to recommend some form of screening to younger people in order to reduce the risk of cancer progressing to a later stage before detection.
Lifestyle Changes to Combat Cancer
About five to ten percent of colorectal cancer cases are the result of inherited genetic mutations, but in the other 90 to 95 percent of cases, making specific lifestyle changes can greatly reduce the risk of developing the disease. These include:
• Limiting or eliminating red meat
• Cutting out processed foods and chemical additives
• Increasing intake of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes
• Eating citrus fruit, dark leafy greens and other foods rich in folic acid to aid in healthy cell division
• Quitting smoking
• Limiting alcohol intake
• Engaging in a regular exercise regimen
A healthy diet and lifestyle along with regular screenings can help prevent colon cancer and catch potential risk factors before they become life-threatening. Early detection increases survival rates, so be sure to start getting screened at a young age if you have a family history of colon cancer. Should you receive a cancer diagnosis, work with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.