Colorectal Cancer Cases in Young People

A large study has found that colorectal cancer cases among young people are on the rise. Read more about the factors that cause this disease and how you can prevent it in this article.
Colorectal Cancer Cases in Young People

Last update: 28 August, 2021

Colorectal cancer cases have significantly changed in recent decades. One of the most alarming aspects is that more and more young people are suffering from it. However, cases are decreasing in older adults.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, consists of different types of cancer that affect the rectum, the large intestine, or the colon. It’s one of the most common types of cancer. In fact, professionals estimate that one in twenty people will suffer from it in their lifetime.

Also, the large number of cases of colorectal cancer makes it the second leading cause of cancer death in the world.

The symptoms of colorectal cancer

colon cancer

Most of the time, colorectal cancer begins with the formation of small masses of cells in the rectum and/or colon.

The US National Library of Medicine notes that colorectal cancer symptoms can be subtle at first. This is especially true for younger people.

These are the characteristic manifestations:

  • Bleeding from the rectum, either with or without pain. 
  • Blood in the stool, during or after a bowel movement.
  • Blood in the toilet.
  • Change in bowel patterns. This could be constipation, diarrhea, or both.
  • Change in the shape or size of your stool. In particular, this includes thinner stools.
  • Increased effort when evacuating stools if you previously didn’t have that issue.
  • Weight loss with no apparent cause.
  • Increased fatigue and decreased desire to exercise.
  • Feeling of fullness, bloating, or cramps in the stomach area.

Causes and risk factors

Scientists have yet to figure out why colorectal cancer cases have increased among young people. They estimate that only 10 to 20% of cases are caused by hereditary factors, like Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis.

Also, they point out that when a disease changes its pattern from one generation to the next, the answer lies in environmental factors rather than genetic ones. In addition, they have found that there are two clear risk factors.

Diet, bacteria, and inflammation

According to different research, unhealthy eating is directly associated with early-onset colorectal cancer. For example, a diet with many fats and processed meats, coupled with low consumption of fruits and vegetables, is a risk factor.

Obesity is often related to a sedentary lifestyle. In addition, it can cause colon cancer. Also, changes in the intestinal flora, like the presence of certain bacteria, are a factor in many people under 50 with colorectal cancer.

Poor diet and changes in intestinal flora can cause inflammation. This creates harmful chemicals that sometimes cause DNA mutations and stimulate cancer growth. As a result, it inhibits your immune system and prevents it from fighting cancer.

Chemical pollution

Some chemicals in the environment may cause colorectal cancer. For example, many pesticides in the air, water, soil, and food can cause it.

Some available evidence shows that these chemicals can alter our DNA. Also, they can cause harmful mutations in our rectum and colon cells. They may also cause changes in your gut bacteria. 

Toxic products can be harmful, even if exposure happens while the fetus is in the womb. Exposure to several chemicals at the same time could lead to very harmful interactions. 

How did they develop the study on colorectal cancer cases?

The American Cancer Society published a report that collected data from a large study carried out in 2020. This study shows that there’s a striking increase in colorectal cancer cases among those under 50 years of age. 

The Surveillance, Epidemiology, the End Results program, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Registries Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collected the data.

The study used information collected between 1995 and 2016. It covered 95% of the US population and also included data from other areas of the world. In addition, they used studies up to 1975 as a basis to establish relative survival trends. Many other sources also supplemented the information.

The research goes until 2016 because the data from later years requires a period of two to four years to be collected, processed, and disseminated. However, scientists also made estimates that covered up to the year 2020. 

What do the studies show?

Illustration of colon cancer

The research concludes that colorectal cancer cases in people older than 65 years are decreasing. In addition, it shows that there’s an increase among younger people. Researchers estimate that this disease affected 12% of people under the age of 50 in 2020. 

In addition, cases have been on the rise in people between the ages of 20 and 39 since the 1980s. And, for those 40 to 54 years, the increase has been more noticeable since the 1990s. However, during the last 20 years, the rates of colorectal cancer in people aged 50 years and over have decreased.

Cases have been increasing at a rate of 2.2% per year in those under 50. Also, they discovered the following about mortality rates:

  • In 65-year-olds: mortality rates began to decline since 2008 at a rate of 3% per year.
  • From 50 to 64 years old: mortality rates only decreased at a rate of 0.6% per year.
  • Under 50 years old: mortality rates increased at a rate of 1.3% per year.

Details about the study

The study also detected variations in the data associated with racial and ethnic groups. It’s not clear if the differences are due to racial factors or differences in lifestyles. 

The data showed the following:

  • Between 2012 and 2016, the lowest incidence rates of colorectal cancer cases were among Pacific Islanders and Asians. There were 30 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • Among whites and Hispanics, the rate was 39 per 100,000.
  • Among blacks, it was 46 per 100,000.

In addition, Alaska Natives have the highest rate at 89 per 100,000. Also, it’s the only group where mortality rates from colorectal cancer have not decreased in recent years. 

There were also important findings regarding detection rates. Researchers found that 66% of people 5o and over were up-to-date on their screening tests in 2018. Another shocking fact is that more than half of colorectal cancer cases are caused by modifiable risk factors.

Colorectal cancer prevention is the best measure

Researchers have found that many colorectal cancer cases can be prevented. To do so, you need to adopt a healthy lifestyle. You should exercise regularly, control your body weight, and follow a healthy diet. 

In addition, people must be up-to-date with their testing. As we mentioned, this applies to everyone, not just older people. Detecting colorectal cancer early can be the difference between life and death. 

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