New Data: This Shocking Age Group Currently Has the Highest Increased Risk for Colon Cancer

Updated: May 21, 2024

It's been known that affected age groups have gradually gotten younger. Now a recent analysis suggests a troubling trend among kids.

Colorectal cancer was once seen as a disease that predominantly affected older adults, but that trend has been generally declining among older populations in recent decades thanks to public education on colon cancer screening recommendations and prevention methods. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that overall colon cancer rates have been falling since the 1980s.

However, new research suggests a wave of colon cancer is emerging among younger populations. According to the ACS, since the mid-1990s, colon cancer rates have been rising by 1-2% each year among people under 55—and now, doctors have found that the younger you are, the more at-risk you may be. 

A study presented this week at Digestive Disease Week 2024, which is hosted in Washington D.C. by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, revealed that between 1999 and 2020, colon cancer rates increased by 500% among children ages 10 to 14 years, 333% among teenagers between 15 and 19, and 185% among young adults between 20 and 24.

The study, led by Islam Mohamed, MD, an internal medicine resident physician at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, used data gathered from the Centers for Disease Control Wonder Database. CDC WONDER is an open system for public health information, which Dr. Mohamed’s team used to calculate trends in colon cancer rates for people between ages 10 and 44.

What they found is that “colorectal cancer is no longer considered just a disease of the elderly population,” says Dr. Mohamed in a press release. “It’s important that the public is aware of signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.”

The press release reports that the most common symptoms observed in young patients diagnosed with colon cancer were “changes in bowel habits in terms of either constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding and signs of iron deficiency anemia.”

Though Dr. Mohamed says this rise among young people is not high enough to suggest widespread colonoscopy screening, he recommends “more tailored approaches” to screening. Researchers also noted an increase in colon cancer rates in the other age groups they analyzed, with rates rising by 71% in ages 30 to 34, 58% in ages 35 to 39, and 37% in ages 40 to 44. As of 2024, the recommended age for an initial colonoscopy is 45 years old, unless a patient has an immediate relative who’s been diagnosed with the disease.

Increased awareness of colorectal cancer symptoms, proactive discussions about family medical history, and lifestyle modifications are crucial to combating this alarming rise. By staying informed and proactive, we can work toward reversing these trends and protecting future generations.

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