Posted: Monday, March 18, 2024

Colorectal Cancer in Young Adults

Colorectal cancer, traditionally associated with older demographics, is making its mark on younger adults. Recent data from the American Cancer Society (ACS) reveals an alarming rise in colorectal cancer diagnoses among individuals under the age of 50. In 2019, 20 percent of the diagnoses were in this age group, marking a two-fold increase from 1995. The rates of advanced disease have seen an annual uptick of about three percent, which calculated into a prediction of 19,550 diagnoses and 3,750 deaths in individuals under 50 in 2023. Interestingly, although there has been a trend of increasing colorectal cancer rates among younger adults since the 1990s, there has been a decline in older age groups, largely attributed to calls for colon cancer screening. Unhealthy diets, particularly those high in processed meats and fats, and lacking in fruits and vegetables, are potential contributors to early-onset colorectal cancer. Environmental factors, such as air and water pollution, chemicals in food and pesticide use also could be potential culprits.

Colorectal cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in men under 50 and the second in women, overshadowing its previous fourth-place status two decades ago. These statistics stress the urgency of understanding the risk factors of colorectal cancer and adopting preventive measures. “Progress is lacking in cancer prevention, especially for adults under 50. The best way to prevent colon cancer is a screening colonoscopy. This is recommended for most individuals at age 45, and at age 40 for those with a family history of colon cancer or advanced polyps in first-degree relatives. A colon polyp is a clump of cells that form on the lining of the colon and can develop into colon cancer, so I encourage everyone to have a colonoscopy for colon cancer screening. For those who have not had a colonoscopy, please call our office to make an appointment or discuss further with your primary care doctor,” Dr. Andrew Canning, gastroenterologist with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Gastroenterology said.

Numerous lifestyle factors can contribute to early-onset colorectal cancer. Sedentary lifestyles, excess weight, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and diets low in fiber but high in processed meats have all been linked to the disease. Additionally, a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, along with conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, amplifies the risk. Proactive lifestyle modifications are important to help prevent this disease. Stopping smoking, responsible alcohol consumption, regular exercise, weight management and increased fiber intake are helpful for prevention. The American Cancer Society emphasizes the importance of limiting alcohol intake and engaging in regular physical activity to reduce risks. Moreover, a fiber-rich diet, incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes is necessary to maintain a healthy colon.

While the increase in colorectal cancer among young adults raises concerns, it is essential to recognize the success in reducing rates among those aged 50 and older, primarily attributed to screening practices. Screening, including colonoscopies, plays a key role in preventing colorectal cancer by detecting and removing precancerous growths known as polyps. Early detection through screening not only prevents the progression of these growths into cancer but also enables timely intervention if cancer is detected.

For more information about colorectal cancer, or to schedule an appointment with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Gastroenterology, call 865-980-5060.

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