Rise in Colorectal Cancer in Younger Americans

A study published in the February 28th issue of The Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that, the incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) in the U.S. is declining rapidly overall but, curiously increasing among young adults.

“This study reveals that the demographics of colon cancer are changing,” says Benjamin Lebwohl, MD, MS, Director of Clinical Research of The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia “We are seeing fewer new cases of colon cancer in individuals over age 50, due in large part to screening colonoscopy. But we are seeing more cases in young adults, i.e. people in their 20’s and 30’s, than in previous decades.”

The risk of colon cancer in young adults is still much lower than for people over 50, Dr. Lebwohl notes, adding that general population screening is not recommended for the younger age bracket. “But there has been a detectable rise, and the reasons for this have not been identified. The authors of the recent study suggest that rise in CRC in young adults has likely been fueled by cumulative increases in excess body fat, but more research is needed.  

“While these findings do not change current screening recommendations which are to begin screening at age 50 among average risk individuals,“ says Dr. Lebwohl, “they underscore the need to carefully assess any adult with symptoms such as persistent rectal bleeding, and to keep in mind that colon cancer can occur at any age.”

“At NYP/Columbia, we are known for treating colorectal cancer with minimally invasive options,” Steven A. Lee-Kong, MD, FASCRS, “For most of our patients, we use laparoscopic or robotic techniques, avoiding large incisions. We are able to preserve function even for those who need a permanent colostomy, by resecting the rectum or part of the sphincter complex leaving some part of the muscle intact. We are also experts in transanal surgery for select patients with early stage rectal cancer―another approach that leaves the patient with more function. In addition, our GI surgeons can remove premalignant lesions with advanced colonoscopic techniques.”

Learn more about Columbia’s division of Colorectal Surgery here.
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