Friday, March 10, 2017

Colorectal Cancer is Increasing in Young Adults

Colorectal cancer is generally considered to be a cancer of older people - so much so that the current recommendation is for colorectal cancer screening (a colonoscopy) every ten years after the age of 50. Most cases of colorectal cancer occur in people over 6O. Overall, the incidence of colorectal cancer has started to decline. However, in recent years there has been a sharp rise in colorectal cancer in the young. According to a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, adults born around 1990 (now in their 20s) have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer as a person who was born around 1950 when they were in their 20s.

The reason for this startling increase in risk for young people is not known. To be fair, the actual risk of colorectal cancer for persons in their 20s is still very low; about 1 case/yr. (per 100,000 population), compared to the over 50 cases/yr for persons over 60.  If you're young, it's probably not worth worrying about.

However, the trend toward an increase in risk for the young is of concern to scientists, if only because we don't understand why it is happening when overall risk across all age groups is declining.  It's worth keeping an eye on.  At the very least, physicians should not rule out the possibility of colorectal cancer in their younger patients.  Perhaps persons who have a family history of colorectal cancer should consider being screened before age 50.

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