Colon Cancer Rising Among Gen Xers, Millennials

TUESDAY, Feb. 28, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Americans in their early 50s and younger — Gen Xers and millennials — are experiencing significant increases in colon and rectal cancer, a new study reports.

And this may portend an overall increase in colon and rectal cancer in the years to come, the study authors said, adding that an old foe might be to blame — the obesity epidemic.

People born in 1990 now have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer, compared with those born around 1950 when the risk was lowest, the researchers said.

“The increase in these rates coincides with the obesity epidemic,” said lead researcher Rebecca Siegel, strategic director for surveillance information services at the American Cancer Society.

“What might be going on is that the same factors that caused the increase in obesity — like changing dietary habits and a more sedentary lifestyle — are also risk factors for colon and rectal cancer,” she suggested.

These cancers were once largely confined to people in their late 50s and older. In the early 1990s, rates of colon and rectal cancer among people 50 to 54 were half those of people 55 to 59. But by 2012-2013, the rates for younger Americans were just 12 percent lower for colon cancer and equal for rectal cancer, Siegel said.

In 2013, about 10,400 cases of colon and rectal cancer were diagnosed in people in their 40s, and 12,800 cases were diagnosed in people in their early 50s, she said.

And the long-term outlook isn’t good, Siegel noted. Children and teens today have high rates of obesity, which might mean more cases of colon and rectal cancer in the years ahead, she said. “We don’t know how long it takes for the effects of obesity to act on cancer promotion,” she added.

With screening, colon cancer can be caught early, when it’s curable. Currently, screening is recommended to start at age 50. But given the findings of this and other studies, the American Cancer Society is reassessing its guidelines, Siegel said.

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