Colon cancer incidence among people under 50 is escalating, researchers have recently determined. The findings were presented on Monday, January 25 in the journal Cancer and stemmed from an analysis conducted by experts at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
A group of 258,024 individuals who had been diagnosed with colon cancer and rectal cancer between 1998 and 2011 were singled out from a database keeping track of cancer prevalence in the United States.
It was determined that approximately 1 in 7 of the individuals who had experienced malignant tumors of the colon and rectum were under the age of 50, which is considered the recommended age when colorectal cancer screenings should first be conducted.
By contrast, just 5% of the invasive cancerous tumors affecting the breasts are identified in women under the age of 40, the threshold beyond which female patients are advised to have screening tests such as mammograms.
In addition, as explained by Dr. Samanth Hendren, study lead author and associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, the individuals who had been diagnosed with colon cancer before reaching the age of 50 tended to have more severe forms of the disease.
That’s explained by the fact that patients beyond the age of 50 often discover they have such tumors during routine examinations and screenings, in the early stages, when they may not display any symptoms.
In contrast, younger patients don’t have such preemptive medical check-ups, so they usually see their doctors when the disease is already highly advanced, and with more obvious manifestations.
Even so, 5-year survival rates are higher among colon cancer patients aged 49 or lower, possibly because these individuals tend to benefit from more aggressive treatments (surgical removal of the cancerous growths, radiation etc.)
For example, the percentage of colon cancer patients who have experienced metastasis and yet survive for at least 5 years following diagnosis is of 21% among those under 50, and of 14% among those above this age.
Given these findings, it appears that colon cancer isn’t just a disease affecting older individuals, like it was previously thought.
Even so, study authors still don’t think that colon cancer screenings should be performed at earlier ages. Such check-ups would put additional strain on the economy, and it’s unclear if their beneficial effects would be significant enough.
On the other hand, experts believe that people should become more aware regarding potential risk factors for this disease, in order to eliminate the ones that are still within their control.
Generally, colorectal cancer determinants consist in: family history and genetic predispositions, inflammatory diseases affecting the colon (such as Crohn’s disease), lack of physical activity, obesity, diabetes, unhealthy diets (based on high intake of fat and low intake of fiber), drinking and smoking.
Also, researchers urge people of all ages to become more knowledgeable regarding the symptoms associated with colon cancer.
These usually include abdominal cramps or gas, inexplicable weight loss, rectal bleeding (dark blood in the stool), anemia (weakness, fatigue, pale skin, palpitations and shortness of breath) and significant changes in the consistency or frequency of their stools.
In addition, given that colon cancer incidence appears to be growing among younger individuals, study authors are now arguing that health professionals should be aware of this trend in order to provide these patients with greater medical and psychological support after diagnosis, and also once they are during remission.
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