Alarming New Trend: Young Adults Dying From Colorectal Cancer

It’s a startling and alarming fact – more young adults in their 20s and 30s are not just being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, they’re dying from it at higher rates.

A recently published JAMA Network research letter states that while the overall mortality rate for colorectal cancer has gone down, the mortality rate for adults under 55 has risen. Researchers did not consider this to be a unique phenomenon, but rather a frightening trend that appears to have surfaced beginning in the 1990s. Dr. Thomas Weber of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable expressed to The New York Times that something “truly important” is going on.

More research is being done as to what’s causing this trend; various types of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors have been tied to increased risks, such as diets high in processed foods, alcohol, obesity and sedentary lifestyles. But researchers are now focusing on some new angles, including the possibility of extended use of antibiotics during adult years – long-term use of antibiotics can negatively impact the gut microbiome, making people susceptible to a wide range of diseases.

Most doctors are hesitant to recommend that young adults begin getting cancer screenings in their 20s, but research is being considered to determine whether this might be the new guideline. One reason for the hesitation is the high cost; the other is that even physicians aren’t convinced that the benefits from colonoscopies in general outweigh the potential harm. There are a number of frequently occurring complications associated with colonoscopies, one of the worst being tears in the rectum or colon wall. Approximately two percent of 300,000 Medicare patients who underwent colonoscopies ended up in the emergency room within a week; these tears can be so serious as to be life-threatening. False positives, which require additional testing, are also an issue, putting undue stress and increased costs on the patient.

Prevention is always the best “medicine”, and there’s a lot we can do to help prevent colorectal cancer in people of all ages. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) states that maintaining a healthy diet and weight along with physical activity can help prevent about fifty percent of colorectal cancers and approximately one-third of other common cancers. Among the foods that lower the risk of colorectal cancer are:

  • Fruits – especially those containing high levels of vitamin C
  • Whole grains
  • Non-starchy vegetables

By swapping processed foods – especially meats like hot dogs – for these choices and moving toward a more plant-based diet, young adults can lower their colorectal cancer risks. Parents can help by instilling healthy lifestyle choices in their young children; combining better food choices and daily exercise can help significantly lessen the risk of young adult cancers and create a healthy pathway into the future.

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