March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colonoscopy screening is generally recommended starting at age 50 but colorectal cancer rates are rising in younger age groups

Researchers at the American Cancer Society conducted a retrospective analysis of nearly half a million patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer between 1974 and 2013 and found that people in their twenties today have a much higher risk of developing the illness than in previous 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".

Dr. Patrick Boland, an oncologist who treats colorectal cancer at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in NY, was not involved with the research but says that, while "provocative", the data are too preliminary to recommend large-scale changes in screening age. However, the cases of these particular kinds of cancer involving young people have seen a significant increase of 29% for rectal cancer and 17% for colon cancer, the study stated. Still, Siegel notes that an American Cancer Society committee is now reviewing recommendations. "But we can't know for sure until further research is done".

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).

The authors of the report conclude that reducing inequalities in colorectal cancer and accelerating progress can be achieved by ensuring equitable, high-quality treatment for all patients, effecting pervasive lifestyle modifications, and increasing initiation of screening at age 50 for people at average risk and earlier for those with a family history of CRC or advanced adenomas. The surge in rectal cancer incidence was even sharper, as it decreased by 2% per year for those aged 75 and older but increased by 4% annually for people in their 20s.

Now, doctors are hoping that some other form of screening will be developed that would aid them in setting the right diagnosis for their younger patients. Researchers still aren't clear exactly what to attribute this steady increase to, but they suggest that a rise in obesity could be a factor.

"More importantly", said Welch, "there is no corresponding change in mortality (for younger adults)".

Siegel said the timing of this colorectal cancer trend parallels that of the obesity trend in the U.S. According to, a case study has been done through the American Cancer Society scientists. Every age group under 50 saw sustained yearly increases at least that big, while every age group over 55 saw sustained declines, the study showed. Some people are getting colonoscopies for reasons other than cancer screening these days, and doctors are surely coming upon early cases of colon cancer they might not have turned up so soon. Still, she and her colleagues can only say so much.

"Many people don't realize that colon cancer may be present in the body for a long time before it causes physical symptoms".