A recent study of colorectal cancer incidence patterns in the United States published in the January 2017 edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that although colorectal cancer incidence is declining rapidly overall, it is increasing among young adults.
We asked Tufts Medical Center colorectal surgeon Lilian Chen, MD a few questions about colorectal cancer rates in young adults and the importance of screening.
Q: What do you think of the research showing that colorectal cancer rates are increasing for young adults?
A: Although young adults account for only a small portion of diagnosed colorectal cancers, the incidence of colorectal cancer in this age group is unfortunately increasing. Genetic predisposition and a family history of colorectal cancers can increase your risk, but can't entirely explain the trends we are seeing.
Q: What might explain the recent trends in colorectal cancer rates?
A: Development of colorectal cancer is a complex combination of genetic, as well as environmental and behavioral factors. One of the factors that has been proposed as a possible reason for the trends we are seeing is the rise of obesity, which is a known risk factor for the development of colorectal cancer. Other contributors could include diets high in processed foods and low in fiber, or lack of exercise.
Q: The study mentioned the need for more education about colorectal cancer screening - what can you tell us?
A: Many colorectal screening options exist, each with its own risks and benefits. The most important thing you can do is to sit down with your doctor and discuss colorectal cancer screening options like colonoscopy. While the guidelines recommend screening after age 50, if you have a family history or genetic predisposition, your doctor may suggest starting screening earlier in life. Tufts Medical Center recently signed a pledge to screen 80% of our population that falls under this age rage by 2018.
Q: Is there anything that you can do to reduce your risk for developing colon cancer?
A: Live a healthy lifestyle, maintain a healthy weight, limit the amount of red meat and processed foods in your diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, try to do some physical activity every day, limit alcohol intake and avoid smoking.