American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that colorectal cancer has become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among young adults. [Source]
Historically considered a disease of older populations, colon cancer’s ascent in the ranks of cancer mortality among the under-50 demographic is a concerning trend. Just two decades ago, it was the fourth-leading cause of cancer death for this age group. Today, it stands as the primary cancer killer for men under 50 and the second for women in the same age bracket.
Dr. Aparna Parikh of the Center for Young Adult Colorectal Cancer at Mass General Cancer Center expresses deep concern over this trend.
“I am alarmed but not surprised by the rising colorectal rates among young people,” Dr. Parikh said, stressing the urgency in understanding the causes behind this surge. Factors such as dietary, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices are under scrutiny, alongside the individual’s genetic predisposition.
The ACS’s annual report, an exhaustive compilation of cancer statistics in the U.S., echoes these concerns.
The report highlights that over 2 million new cancer cases and 611,720 cancer deaths are projected in 2024 in the U.S. alone. While overall cancer mortality has seen a decline, largely attributed to early detection, improved treatments, and healthier lifestyles, the report notes an alarming increase in several cancer types, including colorectal cancer.
“Screening at [age] 45 is [the] standard of care, and the gold standard is colonoscopy,” advises Dr. Parikh, pointing out that even individuals with no apparent risk factors can develop colorectal cancer. [Source]
Dr. Parikh stresses the importance of early symptom recognition and a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, such as a Mediterranean-based diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excessive red meat consumption.
Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the ACS, agrees with the need for increased screenings and follow-up care, especially for those aged 45 to 49.
“We also need to increase investment to elucidate the underlying reasons for the rising incidence to uncover additional preventive measures,” Jemal states, highlighting the critical need for early intervention.
The ACS report also sheds light on the shifting demographic of cancer diagnoses, moving from older individuals to those in their middle ages, who have a longer life expectancy and more years to potentially experience the late effects of treatment.
Despite these daunting figures, there is a silver lining. Since 1991, there has been a 33 percent drop in overall cancer deaths, thanks to reductions in smoking, earlier detection, and improved treatment options. However, disparities in cancer outcomes remain stark among different racial groups, with significantly higher mortality rates for certain cancers in Black and Native American populations.
The ACS, through its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, is urging lawmakers to advance policies that enhance health insurance coverage and accessibility to care. Lisa A. Lacasse, president of the network, emphasizes, “Doing so will bring us closer to our vision of ending cancer as we know it, for everyone.”