‘It’s disturbing’: Doctors see rising rates of colon cancer in younger people

Credit: Uncredited

Credit: Uncredited

Colorectal cancer diagnoses and deaths are rising among younger people at a time when rates of colorectal cancer among the total population are decreasing, the Ohio Department of Health says.

“Cancer is rising in younger patients, and it’s disturbing,” said Dr. Rekha Chaudhary, who is a hematologist and oncologist at UC Health and an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine.

Among those 55 and younger, colorectal cancer rates have been increasing by 1% to 2% a year since about the mid-1990s, and deaths have risen about 1% per year since the mid-2000s, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Overall rates of colorectal cancers have dropped since about the mid-1980s, and the overall mortality rates have also dropped,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the Ohio Department of Health. “Fewer Americans as a whole are being diagnosed with and dying from this cancer, and that’s good news. The same is true in Ohio.”

Colorectal cancer is the second highest cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., he said.

“According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, millennials born around 1990 now have twice the risk of colon cancer compared with people born around the 1950s,” Vanderhoff said. “Millennials’ risk for rectal cancer is about four times higher than that of older age groups.”

In Ohio, the first two decades of the 2000s saw colorectal cancer rates and mortality significantly increase in those less than 50 in both males and females, Vanderhoff said.

Doctors are researching whether environmental factors could be impacting these increases, or whether medications like antibiotics could be influencing gut health.

For now, doctors say lifestyle factors appear to be at the forefront of colorectal health.

“Recent generations eat more meat and processed food and consume more sugary drinks than earlier generations, while physical activity in this group has declined with decades. These are both factors known for increase in cancer risks overall,” Vanderhoff said.

Obesity could also be causing accelerated aging, he said.

Stress can also negatively impact people’s health. Studies with animals have shown that cancers “grow profoundly” when the animals are stressed, Chaudhary said.

Good sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise improve individuals’ health when it comes to cancer.

A high fiber diet can also be beneficial, she said.

“The World Health Organization recommends 20 to 25 grams of fiber a day. The average American gets 15 grams of fiber a day,” Chaudhary said. “...It’s a lot of fiber, but that is so important for the food for our bacteria, the good bacteria, to decrease the colorectal cancer risks.”

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