For much of the last 50 years, colon cancer rates have dropped significantly. For example, between 1970 and 2019, the colon cancer death rate has dropped 56 percent. Not only are we getting better at treating colon cancer, but we’re also improving screening and detection techniques so that issues can be caught at a more treatable stage.
However, it’s not all good news when looking at colon cancer data of late. While trends have been declining in older adults compared to years past, records show that colon cancer rates and deaths have been rising among young people, leaving medical experts to scramble for answers.
“It’s definitely an alarming trend,” said Dr. Mehmet Donat, chief of Gastroenterology and Endoscopy at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan. “It’s something we have been studying. There are a lot of theories, but we can’t pinpoint exactly why this is happening.”
Young Adult Colon Cancer Rates
According to the data, more than 1 in 10 colorectal cancer cases developed in patients younger than 50 years old in 2020. Additionally, the American Cancer Society suggests that colorectal cancer rates have been increasing in patients between the ages of 20-39 since the mid-1980s and in those between the ages of 40-54 since the mid-1990s. While the incidence of colorectal cancer decreased 2% percent year in adults over the age of 50 from 2014 to 2018, rates increased 1.5% per year in patients younger than 50 years old.
That’s not all. According to a recent study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, rates of distant-stage colorectal cancer, which involves cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, are making up a growing portion of diagnoses in young people, particularly in Hispanics and African Americans. Study authors called for “vigilant attention” to be paid towards symptoms and family histories to ensure those at risk can get screening exams earlier than currently recommended.
Colon cancer can be difficult to catch on symptoms alone, simply because the condition tends to mimic problems caused by a variety of less serious digestive issues. Changes in bowel habits, weight loss and fatigue could suggest that a patient is dealing with the more common irritable bowel syndrome, but doctors shouldn’t overlook the possibility of a more serious condition.
Unfortunately, a misdiagnosis is quite common among patients who eventually find out they are dealing with colon cancer. A survey by the Colorectal Cancer Alliance found that 82 percent of colon cancer survivors were initially misdiagnosed, with 67 percent saying that they saw at least two different doctors before the right diagnosis was made.
So while screenings are important, many patients are being diagnosed before the age of 45 or 50, the ages at which standard screenings become recommended. To combat this, medical experts suggest that patients take ownership in their health and become their own advocate. If you are dealing with digestive changes, uncomfortable symptoms or you just don’t feel like you’re getting the best care from your medical team, go seek out another opinion from a gastrointestinal specialist. Colorectal cancer is extremely hard to successfully treat in advanced stages, so don’t wait until it’s too late. Advocate for yourself and make it a priority to get to the bottom of your GI issues.
If you want to talk to a specialist about gastrointestinal symptoms that you’re experiencing, or if this blog post reminded you that you’re overdue for a colonoscopy, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants today for assistance. Give us a call at (952) 368-3800.