If you were born in the 80’s or the 90’s, your risk of getting colon cancer may be higher than it is for people in other age groups. A new study suggests that while the rates of colorectal cancer are dropping overall, they are rising among Gen Xers and millennials.
More than a decade ago, scientists noticed an odd quirk in the data: While overall rates of colorectal cancer have been falling dramatically since the mid-1980s, there’s been a steady uptick of this disease among people younger than 50.
The numbers are small. Cancer incidence is creeping up by 1 or 2 cases per 100,000 people under 50. By way of comparison, the disease rate among older Americans has plummeted by more than 100 cases per 100,000 people.
According to the New York Times, “Most colorectal cancers are considered a disease of aging, so any increase in young adults, especially when rates of the disease are on the wane in older people, is both baffling and worrisome, experts say.”
The Washington Post wrote that while the new research can point to what is happening, it cannot definitively explain why.
American Cancer Society researcher Rebecca Siegel, who led the study, said that earlier work had signaled a growing incidence of colorectal cancer among the groups known as Gen X and millennials. But the magnitude of the increase identified “was just very shocking,” she said.
The study, which included scientists at the NCI, didn’t determine the reason for the shift. But Siegel suggested one explanation might be a complex interaction involving the same factors that have contributed to the obesity epidemic — changes in diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excess weight and low fiber consumption.
CNN quoted Dr. George J. Chang, chief of colorectal surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center, as saying the answer to why this is happening is “the billion- or trillion-dollar question. Boy, it would be great if we knew.” Chang added, “It’s really important to highlight this issue because … young individuals ignore some of the symptoms, and they don’t get worked up.”
This is an important day to talk about the new study because today, March 3rd, is ‘Wear Blue Day‘ – designed to raise awareness about colon cancer. So let us know your thoughts on the study and why you think we might be seeing this concerning new trend among young(er) adults. Generating meaningful conversations with our partners around the health issues making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!