Oncologists are worried because colorectal cancer cases are on the rise among the under-30s. Healthier nutrition and more exercise from childhood could lower the risk. But also, the family risk would have to be paid more attention – it often leads to colon cancer at a young age.
Most cancer patients are diagnosed beyond the age of 60. This also applies to colorectal cancer, the second most common cancer. Half of the patients are over 70 when they learn about their condition. However, oncologists have registered an increase in colon cancer cases in people under the age of 50 in recent years. The increase is particularly high in the very young adults aged 20 to 29 years.
First, the development of US researchers was noticeable. In the US, the number of younger patients has doubled in 25 years. In 2018, every tenth colon cancer was diagnosed in people who were under 50 years old. By contrast, the case numbers for older people tended to decline. Here, it seems that screenings have an effect that people are recommended from the middle of life.
Strongest increase among under-30s
A study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has reviewed this trend internationally and evaluated 21 cancer registries from seven western countries for the last ten years. Throughout, they found an increase in case numbers for the Ü-50 generation.
In the age group 20 to 29 years, the increase is also worrying. Colorectal cancer has not been an issue in this group so far – except for people with a genetic predisposition and high familial risk.
A similar study was conducted by researchers at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. They analysed European data from 25 years and found a high increase in colorectal cancer in young adults. Between 2004 and 2016 it was an increase of almost eight percent per year.
Junk food plus sitting promote colon cancer
The studies published in the journals “Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology” and “Gut” have not addressed the causes of this development. The experts, however, the combination of an unhealthy diet, obesity, and lack of exercise seem in childhood as a breeding ground for colon cancer at a young age.
Several studies have shown that high meat consumption, fast food, ready meals, and all high-processed foods are harmful to gut health – especially when they supplant fresh foods with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
In young patients, the cancer is often particularly aggressive
From an expert’s point of view, however, the risk of a life-threatening lifestyle does not explain why younger patients often have aggressive tumours. A US study found that cancer patients younger than 50 years old are more likely to have metastases when diagnosed than older colon cancer patients at the time of first diagnosis.
Because colon cancer usually develops from harmless polyps on the intestinal lining, its development can be prevented if screening detects these precursors. Removing them eliminates the breeding ground for cancer.
Screening with colonoscopy only for young high-risk patients
A regular and frequent colonoscopy is currently only available for younger people from the age of 25, who have a significant familial risk for colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). If a close relative suffers from colon cancer, experts generally recommend the colonoscopy ten years before the age of onset of the relative, and no later than 45 years.