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Will younger people require colon screening in the near future?

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | November 06, 2014
Dr. Christina E. Bailey
Over the next 15 years, more than one in 10 colon cancer and almost one in four rectal cancer diagnoses will be made in patients who are below the traditional screening age, according to a new study conducted by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The study was published in the current issue of JAMA Surgery.

The researchers decided to investigate this after they noticed a trend in younger patients being diagnosed with colorectal cancer at their own clinics, Dr. Christina E. Bailey, the study's first author and surgical oncology fellow at the university, told DOTmed News. They performed a retrospective cohort study that evaluated surveillance, epidemiology and end results (SEER) data on over 393,000 patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) from 1975 to 2010.

They found that the annual incidence rate for CRC in patients under 34 years old is increasing for all stages of the disease. They predict that by 2030, the incidence of rectal cancer for patients between 20 and 34 years old will rise by about 124 percent and the incidence of colon cancer will increase by 90 percent.

The researchers don't know the exact cause of the increase, but they speculate that it may be due to the lack of screening and risk factors including obesity and insufficient physical activity. They recommend that patients eat less processed and fast food and eat more vegetables and fruits in order to lower their risk.

The study also found that there was a steady decrease in the rate of patients 50 years and older with CRC. The researchers predict that the rate will decline by about 38 percent for colon cancer and about 34 percent for rectal cancer by 2030.

Patients older than 75 years will have the greatest decrease in incidences. The researchers attribute the decline to robust screening and prevention efforts.

The researchers are not calling for a revamp of screening guidelines right now, but they are recommending that physicians become more aware of CRC symptoms in their patients who are younger than the traditional screening age.

"I think what our study does is point to the fact that we do need to make an effort to increase awareness that this is a problem among younger patients," said Bailey.

Even though their study just looks at CRC, there are also concerns about an increasing incidence of breast cancer among younger women. "We thought it was interesting that it's not just a big phenomenon in colon and rectal cancer, we're also seeing it in other cancers as well," said Bailey.

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