According to a new study published this Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, those Americans under 55 years old are more likely to suffer from colon and rectal cancer, as the rates of the disease have shown a continuous rise.
A team of researchers from the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute demonstrated the risk that millennials have concerning colon and rectal cancer disease, as a person born in the 90’s has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer when comparing to someone born in the 50’s.
The researchers said that one of the things that worry them the most is that younger adults often present advanced stages of the cancer disease because routine screening is usually not recommended for people under 50 years old.
Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and the lead author of the study, said that the findings surprised the whole team. According to Siegel, the rise of the disease among younger populations groups contrasts directly with the overall decrease in colon and rectal cancer among Americans in general.
She said that progress presented in the last decades must be thanks to the proliferation of regular screenings or colonoscopies in older adults. An early detection of an abnormality can translate into a treatment that rejects the disease itself. That has been a trend over the past years that has helped in the decrease of the national rate.
According to Dr. George J. Chang, chief of colorectal surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, it would be great to discover the reason behind this rise of cancer among millennials. He says that this must be an issue of concern for the medical community, as “young individuals ignore some of the symptoms, and they don’t get worked up.”
Different opinions regarding the severity of the problem
According to Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, people must not make too much out of this. He thinks that the study is not reason enough to panic.
Welch says that the statistics presented in the survey are not strong enough to be rising the amount of attention seen in the last days. According to the research, the rate of colorectal cancer in people in their 20’s rise from one to two persons in every 200,000. Also, the study showed that for all individuals below 50 years old, the rate is at seven persons having the disease in every 200,000 people.
The number of people older than 50 years old who suffer that disease dropped to over 100 cases in every 200,000 Americans (from 226 in 1985 to 117 in 2013).
Welch stated that the fact investigators must highlight is that the mortality rate showed no changes in the younger population groups, which means that even when cancer rates are rising among younger people, the dying rates are not, and that is positive. These statements made by Welch are sustained by a study he published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Chang agreed with Welch when discussing the fact that the disease is still uncommon among individuals below 50 years old. However, what concerns him the most is the speed of the rise as “it’s important for us to be thinking about this because it’s clearly not a trend that seems to be leveling off.”
Possible explanations for the cancer trend in millennials
The team of researchers divided the study according to each age group for them being able to define reasonable hypothesis of the problem.
Dr. Siegel said in this way it was easier to disentangle the variations presented in each generation, like diet regimes, diagnosis, and medical treatments. However, the evidence was not enough to conclude for a specific reason.
“The results do not provide any direct evidence about the role of specific exposures or interventions,” they note in the study. Trends in the young could be a bellwether of the future disease burden, our results are sobering,” the research team said when presenting the study this Tuesday.
Siegel made a body of recommendations hoping to reduce the speed of the trend. If health authorities don’t pay attention to this problem, it could translate into a bigger issue for next generations.
“Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering. Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend,” Siegel stated.