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The Increase of Colorectal Cancer Cases Among Young Americans: What’s Behind the Spike?

May 15, 2024 – Despite positive trends in colorectal cancer rates over the last 20 years, one demographic shows a concerning increase: Americans under 45.

Research presented at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2024 in Washington, DC, reveals a 333% rise in colorectal cancer cases among 15- to 19-year-olds and a 185% increase among 20- to 24-year-olds from 1999 to 2020.

Though these percentages are alarming, the actual number of cases in these age groups is still small compared to those in Americans 45 and older, noted Dr. Loren Laine, professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Lead investigator Dr. Islam Mohamed, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, cautioned that although the trends are concerning, widespread screening for colorectal cancer among children and teens is not currently recommended.

While the absolute number of cases among young adults aged 15 to 19 increased from 1 in 333,000 in 1999 to 1 in 77,000 in 2020, experts emphasize the importance of being aware of symptoms and seeking medical attention if needed.

In young adults aged 20 to 24, the number of cases rose from less than 1 to 2 per 100,000 in 2020. Though the risk is relatively low in terms of actual numbers, health experts are monitoring the increase in rates closely.

Dr. Laine stressed the importance of recognizing colorectal cancer symptoms and not dismissing them if experienced by individuals under 45, as early detection can make a significant difference in outcomes.

Dr. Mohamed, along with colleagues, used data from the CDC Wonder Database to analyze colorectal cancer cases and highlighted the importance of public awareness regarding the signs and symptoms of this disease.

Colorectal cancer ranks third in terms of new cases and cancer-related deaths in the US, excluding some skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Mohamed suggested that rising rates of colorectal cancer in younger individuals may be linked to environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors, as well as improved screening practices. Lifestyle changes like weight loss, healthy diet, regular exercise, and limited alcohol intake can help lower the risk.

While some risk factors can be modified, factors like family history, certain genetic mutations, and inflammatory bowel disease contribute to colorectal cancer cases that cannot be changed.

The research also showed varying increases in colorectal cancer rates across different age groups, emphasizing the need for personalized screening approaches and public awareness.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended lowering the age for colorectal cancer screening to 45 in 2021, indicating the importance of targeted screening for high-risk individuals under 45.

Staying informed about the latest research and recommendations for colorectal cancer prevention and screening is crucial for managing the rising incidence of the disease.

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