A study published this week found that for Americans under the age of 55, colon and rectal cancer rates are rising. Sharply. In fact, a person born in 1990 now has twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer at the same age, had they been born in the 50’s. And that means that screening guidelines may need to change.
Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society and the lead author of the study said that they looked at nearly 500,000 cases of colorectal cancer from 1974 to 2013 but didn’t find concrete evidence pointing to the reasons behind the increase. (Here’s a novel idea- people need to start eating/living better.)
However, the article points out:
“Siegel said the rise of obesity, for example, has closely mirrored the trends in colorectal cancer. Obesity may not be a direct cause of colorectal cancer, Siegel said, though it may share common risks — such as sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets.If obesity were the primary cause, Siegel said, ‘you wouldn’t expect to see (an increase in colorectal cancer) for 10 or 20 years.’
A 2014 study showed a 10% increased risk for colon cancer for each five-point increase in body mass index — which may be the difference between what is considered normal and overweight.”
But, regardless of the numbers found in the study, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, doesn’t think we should worry too much about this. He believes the numbers are “too small to warrant the attention this trend is getting.” Over the last three decades, the annual rate of colorectal cancer among people in their 20s increased from one to two cases for every 200,000 people and for all adults under 50, the rate of colorectal cancer in 2013 was just over seven cases per 100,000 people. And in adults 50 and up, rates have dropped.
While we agree that these changes are small, it still warrants a second look because SOMETHING is happening (or finally catching up) to people. We can’t just assume more testing will solve the problem. While colonoscopies DO find polyps, they aren’t all benefit. So perhaps part of the discussion needs to be about testing as well. In fact, the Cologuard stool test, for example, was approved by the FDA in 2014 and can be taken at home. It’s better at detecting growths that have already become cancerous and far less harsh and invasive than the standard colonoscopy.