Dr. Campbell: Colon cancer rates rising in younger people

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer rates have been declining overall in the United States since the mid-1980s, but certain age groups—such as younger adults—are seeing a concerning rise in cases, according to new research from the American Cancer Society.

  1. Just how common is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death and the fourth-most common cancer in the United States. In 2013, there were an estimated 1,177,556 people living with colon and rectum cancer in the United States. For colorectal cancer, death rates increase with age. Last year there were nearly 140,000 deaths from colon cancer.

  1. What did this new study find?

After looking at nearly 500,000 colon cancer diagnoses in the U.S. from 1974 to 2013, researchers found a disturbing increase in the rates of cancer in younger adults. Compared to people born around 1950, those born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer. The results showed that after decreasing since 1974, colon cancer incidence rates increased by 1 to 2 percent per year from the mid-1980s through 2013 in adults ages 20 to 39.

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  1. Why do you think we are seeing higher rates in younger adults?

While we do not know the exact cause of this disturbing rise, researchers postulate that the obesity epidemic may have something to do with it. Obesity has been linked to the development of colon cancer.  the same factors that led to the obesity epidemic, including less healthy eating and more sedentary lifestyles, have also contributed to the rise of colorectal cancer in these populations.

  1. What can we do to prevent colon cancer?

Routine screening for colon cancer with tests for blood in the stool as well as colonoscopy have been shown to reduce death from colon cancer. In light of these new findings, the authors say it may be time to consider changing the guidelines for the age to start routine screenings for colon cancer. Current recommendations call for screenings starting at age 50 for people at average risk.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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