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Colon Cancer Deaths Rise Among Younger Adults: Study

Washington (August 10, 2017): Adults in the United States are dying from colon and rectal cancers at an increasing rate about age 50, when they should just be beginning screenings, according to a new study from the American Cancer Society.

Since routine screening is generally not recommended for most adults under 50, the cancers found in younger adults are often in advanced stages and more deadly, said Dr. James Church, a colorectal surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

 

Church, who was not involved in the new study, said he has seen this trend in death rates up close. Last year, on separate occasions, Church saw two 36-year-olds with stage IV colon cancer, he said.

In both of those patients, who had no relation to each other, the cancer spread to their livers, making it so he couldn’t operate. Both died, he said.

“They both had young families, both little girls, and they lost their father in one case and their mother in the other, forever, because of this nasty disease when it’s advanced,” Church said.

“It makes a big impact on me, and it makes me keenly interested in trying to solve this issue,” he said. “Everybody in colorectal surgical circles is seeing increased incidence of colon cancer in the young, defined as younger than 50.”

The new study, published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA, is a followup to one that found that incidence rates of colon and rectal cancers are rising in American adults under 50, the recommended screening age.

According to the previous study, adults born in 1990 could have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age had they been born in 1950.

The reason for the rise in both incidence and death rates remains unclear.

“We’ve known that there’s this increasing trend in people under 50 for incidence, but a lot of people were saying, ‘Hey, this is good news. This means people are getting more colonoscopies, and cancer’s being detected earlier,’ ” said Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the new study.

Now, “what (the new study) indicates is that the increase in incidence is a true increase in disease occurrence and not an artifact of more colonoscopy use,” she said. “If it was just colonoscopy use, you wouldn’t expect to see an effect on death rates, or even you might see a decline in death rates.”

Colorectal cancer, which includes both colon and rectal cancers, is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States and the second leading cause in men, and this year, it’s expected to result in about 50,260 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.

Globally, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.

The new study included data on colon and rectal cancer diagnoses and death reports for adults ages 20 to 54 in the United States from 1970 to 2014.

The mortality data came from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics, which tracks cause-specific mortality rates.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that colon and rectal cancer mortality rates among 20- to 54-year-olds declined overall from 1970 to 2004 but then increased by 1% annually from 2004 to 2014. In 2014, the total colorectal mortality rate in that age group was 4.3 people per 100,000.

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