The Increasing Rates of Colon Cancer in People under 50
Traditionally considered a disease of the elderly, colorectal cancer primarily affects people over the age of 50. According to a recent study, however, colon cancer rates are rising in younger patients, leading some to suggest a need to lower the recommended screening age.
A Clear Increase
According to researchers at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Michigan Health System, about one in seven of today’s colon cancer patients are under the age of 50. Published online in the journal Cancer, the study included data from nearly 260,000 colon cancer patients from 1998 and 2011. Ultimately, the researchers found what they called a “relatively large number” of colon cancers occurring in younger patients, even after factoring in improved diagnosis techniques.
Why the Increase?
While they can’t say for sure, the researchers suggested environmental factors and modern lifestyle choices could play a role in the increased cancer rates among younger patients. Poor diet, obesity and physical inactivity are all risk factors for colon cancer. Still, without having any exact way to determine the actual cause, experts are calling for more research to help explain the striking increase.
Should the Testing Age be Changed?
The recent findings have caused some to suggest lowering the recommended screening age from its current standing of 50. One of the main reasons stems from the higher prevalence of advanced colon cancer in younger patients. Without testing, many younger patients are often diagnosed only after their cancers begin causing symptoms, such as bowel bleeding, anemia or a blockage in the colon. By this time, the cancer has often spread to other parts of the body. Still, most experts say it is too soon to say whether screening guidelines should be altered to reflect this apparent trend.
When to See a Doctor
Despite the apparent increase in colon cancer rates, the disease is still especially rare in younger patients. That said, those with a family history of colon cancer may want to consider talking to their doctors about screening, since genetics appear to play a key role in determining a patient’s cancer risk. At the same time, you should visit your doctor if you demonstrate any troublesome symptoms such as unexplained fatigue, weight loss or bloody stool. You should also schedule a colon cancer screening once you reach the age of 50.