Colon cancer rates in young adults: 6 notes

Rising rates of colon cancer in adults younger than 50 continue to puzzle medical experts. But recent research from Cleveland Clinic found changes in the tumor-associated bacteria of patients under 50 with a colon cancer diagnosis.

The findings could lead to more strategic ways to promote screening and find treatments for younger patients with this type of cancer. 

While the ultimate cause of rising colon cancer rates in young adults is not fully understood, experts at Yale say it could be due to a range of factors that are more prevalent across younger generations like a more sedentary lifestyle, increased obesity rates and other lifestyle factors. 

"Even if you're in your 20s or 30s, you should get checked out if you have rectal bleeding, if you have any change in your bowel habits, any change in appetite (like feeling 'full' early), weight loss, or abdominal pain that is not explained," Haddon Pantel, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Yale Medicine in New Haven, Conn. stated in a Jan. 17 news release. "Your symptoms may be different than those of someone you know who had colorectal cancer."

Six ttrends to know: 

  • Cancer diagnosis rates among people under 50 have risen 13% since 2000.

  • Colon cancer is among the most common types of cancer diagnosed in both women and men, according to a February 2024 report from the American Cancer Society.

  • During a single week at Yale Medicine Colon & Rectal Surgery, physicians reported that the oldest patient they diagnosed with colon cancer was 35 and the youngest was 18. 
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended colon cancer screening age in 2021 from 50 to 45. 
  • In an effort to understand more about treating this type of cancer in younger patients, researchers are now honing in on analyses of the DNA and biological elements of tumor tissue samples to inform treatment decisions.

  • Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City are working on the development of a vaccine that targets a specific gene found in tumors, known as KRAS. So far, early trials of the vaccine candidate have proven to be effective in 84% of patients who had pancreatic or colorectal cancers recur after their initial treatment.

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