Rates of Colon Cancer Increasing Among Young Adults

It’s no secret that millennials and the younger half of generation X have been impacted by shifts in the work place thanks to recent recessions, trickle down economics, and shifts in company culture to value the profit over the employee. I’m not even going to start on the hot mess that is the American Health Care Act (AHCA) also coined as #trumpcare. To add insult to injurty, a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published by Siegel et al. has shown some alarming data on the rates of Colorectal Cancer among young Americans.

 

Though incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) have been quickly decreasing overall since the 70’s, young(er) adults (<55 years old) are experiencing increased rates as high as 3.2%.This is an alarming trend because CRC is most commonly found in older adults and the recommended age for screening in asymptomatic adults starts at 50. It is likely that because screening for CRC does not occur until later in life, CRC cases in young adults are being missed and not diagnosed in the early stages. Though not expressed explicitly in the paper, this might be an even bigger issue for the young African American population.

CRC starts as polyps, which are typically benign but can become malignant over time. So if polyps are caught in time they can be removed before they become an issue. However, there is currently no screening protocol in place for young adults.

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There are a number of risk factors for CRC. These include obesity, physical inactivity, long-term smoking, overconsumption of red or process meats, low calcium intake, moderate to heavy alcohol consumption and low intake of fruits and vegetables. Many of these risk factors are modifiable, especially for young adults. Increased exercise, healthy diets including increased amounts of fruits and vegetables, as well as intake of whole grain fiber and decreased consumption of red meat can reduce the risk of CRC.

Overall, African Americans have a slightly higher rate of CRC in the U.S. (4.7% AA females, 4.9% AA males vs 4.3% Non-Hispanic White females, 4.6% Non-Hispanic White males). In fact, doctors recommend African Americans begin screening earlier at age 45. The 5-year relative survival rate for CRC among African Americans sits around 59% (2005-2011) and is smaller than that of white counterparts (67%, 2005-2011). The decrease in survival rates among AA reflects differences in treatment, socioeconomic status, and co-morbidities. This might be something that black millenials and gen X folks might want to keep an eye out for more than their non-black counterparts.

 

So what is the cause of increased CRC in young adults? The study didn’t look into potential causes. However experts say the increased rate is not because human papilloma virus (HPV) but could be a combination of an increase of risk facts (obesity, sedentary lifestyle, etc.) and a decrease in fiber consumption.

The increase in CRC rates in this population puts a heavier burden on this generation to have access to quality healthcare in addition to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is more important now than ever to monitor your health and see a doctor when you are not feeling well. Maybe, write, call, email your local congressman about the AHCA while you’re at it too. In the meantime, try to get a few extra steps, eat more fruits and vegetables, and make small healthy changes. If we start to make changes now, maybe the numbers will start to go down for us young adults too.

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