Since the mid-’80s, colorectal cancer rates have been steadily falling in the U.S., with the occurrence of colon and rectum cancer cases decreasing by an average of 3.2 percent over the last decade or so. Despite these promising figures, colorectal cancer is actually increasing within one large, important demographic group—young people.
According to a study published last month in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, colon and rectum cancer is becoming more common among Americans younger than 50. The research looked at patients aged 20 and older, analyzing diagnoses from 1973 to 2013.
In looking at the study’s results, it is important to note that most cases of colorectal cancer occur in people older than 50, with the median age of diagnosis falling at 68. That doesn’t mean these findings are insignificant though—almost one third of rectum cancer patients are younger than 55, and around 20 percent of all people diagnosed with either colon or rectum cancer are between the ages of 20 and 54.
So, why young people? One reason may be that people don’t start getting colonoscopies or utilizing other screening methods until they turn 50, which means that a lot of younger Americans are leaving themselves vulnerable by not getting checked for colorectal cancer in the first place.
Additionally, the increased rates may have something to do with the fact that people under 50 are more likely to be obese, but it’s hard to draw a direct line between the two because only around 11 percent of colon cancer cases are actually tied to obesity.
While the exact reason remains unclear, there is a fear that colorectal cancer rates could start increasing overall as this young population begins to age. To help combat this trend, the study’s authors recommended that people thought about beginning the screening process earlier than age 50.
Dillon Thompson is University of Georgia student and freelance writer with a love for travel and an addiction to coffee and hip-hop music.