Colon cancers surge among Millennials, Generation X
Obesity, inactivity and diet among the suspected culprits
Colon and rectal cancers have increased dramatically and steadily in young and middle-age adults over the past four decades, a study confirmed Tuesday.
Though scientists have not pinpointed an exact cause, prime suspects include obesity, inactivity and poor diets, said researchers from the American Cancer
Society, reporting in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“Colorectal cancer had been thought a success story” because overall rates have fallen as screening increased among older adults, lead researcher Rebecca Siegel said. “But it appears that under the surface, the underlying risk for colorectal cancer is rising, and it is rising pretty quickly among young adults.”
The result: Someone born in 1990 has double the risk of early colon cancer and quadruple the risk of early rectal cancer as someone born in 1950, Siegel and her colleagues reported. It is likely that Millennials and Generation X adults “will carry that risk forward” as they age, she said.
Most of the nation’s 135,000 annual cases and 50,000 deaths related to colon and rectal cancer occur among people over age 55. The share of cases involving younger adults has risen to 29% for rectal cancer and 17% for colon cancer, the study showed. About 11,000 people in their 40s and 4,000 under 40 were diagnosed in 2013.
Previous studies picked up increases in young adults, but the new study provided age-group details from nearly 500,000 cases reported from 1974 to 2013. For example, it found rectal cancer rates rose an average of 3.2% a year among people in their 30s, starting in 1983.
“Anything more than about 1% a year is a big change,” Siegel said. Every age group under 50 saw sustained yearly increases at least that big, while every age group over 55 saw declines, the study showed.