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Colorectal Cancer Rates Spike in Younger Adults

03/20/18

Colorectal Cancer

Photo: Shutterstock

More than 1.3 million people are living with colorectal cancer in the United States, and nearly 140,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. The good news is that timely screening and early treatment are reducing the number of deaths from the disease. The bad news is that colorectal cancer rates have risen dramatically among younger patients.

According to a recent study from the American Cancer Society, people born in 1990 have double the risk of developing colon cancer and quadruple the risk of developing rectal cancer as someone born in 1950.

“Typically, colorectal cancer is thought of as a disease that affects older adults,” says David A. Berg, MD, a board-certified, fellowship-trained surgeon at Jefferson Health – Northeast. “For that reason, it may not be on a younger person’s radar as a potential cause for the symptoms they are experiencing.”

The disease and its symptoms are now something everyone should be aware of, since early detection and treatment is the key to survival, he says. Potential symptoms are:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Stomach pain, gas, and cramping
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Any of these symptoms should be followed up with a doctor’s appointment immediately.

It’s not clear why some people develop colorectal cancer while others do not; some people inherit gene mutations that increase their risk for developing the disease. However, in the majority of cases, colorectal cancer is sporadic and not inherited, and may be related to lifestyle choices such as excess body weight, high consumption of processed meat and alcohol, low levels of physical activity and fiber consumption, and cigarette smoking.

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