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Colon cancer cases are rising in people under age 50

Gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among all early-onset cancers, one study found.
Colon cancer cases are rising in people under age 50
Posted at 2:03 PM, Aug 22, 2023

Colon cancer rates are increasing in the U.S. in people under 50.

study released in August looked at more than 500,000 people with early-onset cancer in the United States from 2010 to 2019. Gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among all early-onset cancers.

Since the 1990s, cases of colorectal cancer in patients under 50 have been growing, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"This is a very concerning trend and we don't fully understand why this is happening," said Dr. David Liska, a colorectal surgeon and director of the Center for Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer at Cleveland Clinic.

However, colon cancer screenings aren’t recommended for people at average risk until about age 45. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends adults age 45 to 75 get screened for colorectal cancer.  

“We have plenty of patients, unfortunately, who are young, healthy, fit, active and can still develop colon cancer,” Dr. Liska said.

So what are some things you should watch out for?

SEE MORE: Colon cancer survivor aims to help other younger people with diagnosis

Bleeding from the colon could be one sign.

"Another symptom people should pay attention to is a change in their bowel habits," Dr. Liska said.

Other symptoms could include abdominal pain, anemia, and unexplained weight loss.

"Younger people are more likely to have rectal cancer develop and the rectum is the last part of the colon," Dr. Liska said. He also explained that cancer appears more commonly on the left side of the colon.

"People with left-sided colon cancer and rectal cancers are more likely to have blood in their stool," he said.

Some of the risk factors for colon cancer include smoking, drinking in excess, and diets high in red meat and low in fiber. Physical activity can reduce risk.

"The majority of young onset colon cancer, probably about 80% to 85%, are not due to a known genetic syndrome," Dr. Liska said.

Doctors are actively researching why this increase in cases is happening.

"It's probably more than one reason and it's probably different reasons in different people, and there's a lot of active research going on," Dr. Liska said.

"We do believe that some environmental exposures are related to it. Could it be something diet, something in the environment? We have noticed that it parallels the obesity epidemic, especially in this country," he said.

There may also be unique risk factors in younger adults that researchers have not identified yet, according to the National Cancer Institute.

@scrippsnews Colon #cancer cases are increasing in young people. A new study found that gastrointestinal cancers had the fastest-growing incidence rates among early-onset cancers. While doctors are actively researching why this might be happening, there are some symptoms you should pay attention to. #healthtok ♬ original sound - Scripps News


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