Colorectal cancer survival rates similar across age groups, study finds

Younger patients with metastatic colorectal cancer do not survive longer than older patients with the disease, according to findings recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 

The study was based on data from a clinical trial that evaluated a combination of chemotherapy and biologic therapy in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Researchers from Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute compared the survival times of 514 trial participants younger than 50 to those of 1,812 patients who were older than 50. 

Researchers did not find a significant difference in the overall median survival between the groups: 27 months among the younger group and 26.12 months among the older group. 

The findings, published Oct. 12, came as a surprise to researchers, as younger patients typically have fewer complicating health factors. 

"As a group, younger patients are more physically active and have higher performance status and are better able to perform the activities of daily living than older patients," said Kimmie Ng, MD, senior study author and director of Dana-Farber's young-onset colorectal cancer center. 

"They also tend to be treated with higher doses of therapy and have less severe side effects," Dr. Ng said in an Oct. 27 news release. 

Additionally, the study found patients younger than 35 had the shortest median survival of any age group at 21.95 months, though the finding was not considered statistically significant because there were relatively few patients in this age group. 

Young-onset colorectal cancer has been on the rise in the last two decades, with overall incidence among people under age 50 jumping about 22 percent from 2000-13, despite the overall incidence of the disease declining, researchers said. 

While some researchers hypothesize that colorectal cancer might be more aggressive at an earlier age, more research is needed to identify why younger patients fare no better than older patients.

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