Generational Changes in Colon Cancer

The American Cancer Society reported major changes in colon and rectal cancer this week showing significant increases in Millennials and significant drops in Boomers and WWII generations between 1980 and now.

The study looked at age groups and rates of cancer for the past 50 years. Between 1890 and 1950 colon cancer had been dropping in all age groups. Colon and rectal cancer have largely been a disease of older people and screening recommendations begin at age 50 for most people.

The recent 90-year age group has half the risk now of a 1980 group the same age (now 150 per 100,000) while a 20-30-year-old group has 2-3 times the risk of the same age group in 1980 (now 1 per 100,000 for colon cancer and .75 per 100,000 for rectal cancer). This increasing rate has been happening in younger people since 1980 and experts are concerned about the future. The decrease in elders is credited to screening. The increase in the younger group is thought related to obesity and the habits that contribute to obesity but explanations are speculative.

The American Cancer Society funded study recommends more research into the causes and increased awareness among clinicians and the public.

“Trends in young people are a bellwether for the future disease burden,” said Rebecca Siegel, MPH. “Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering. Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people, but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend.”
written by: | Katherine Heighway |
medically reviewed by: | Robert Carlson, M.D. |