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Simpson Street Free Press

Rising Tide of Colon Cancer: Younger Patients at Risk and Seeking Answers

Colon cancer, the second deadliest type of cancer in the United States, has seen a rise in diagnosis in younger patients under 50. While doctors are not exactly sure of the reason for this increase, they might know contributing factors.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is a disease in the digestive system. This cancer usually begins with a growth of tissue called a polyp, which is caused due to abnormal production of cells. Removing this tissue in the early stages could prevent cancer, but many of the symptoms may not appear at first. Some of those symptoms could include changes in bowel movements, bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2020, over 147,950 people were diagnosed with colon cancer, and an estimated 53,200 people died–which is still just 8.8% of all cancer-related deaths. In 2019, 20% of the newly diagnosed patients were under the age of fifty. In comparison, only 11% under the age of fifty were diagnosed in 1995.

While there is some positive news with cases of mortality rates decreasing due to screening, better therapies, and reductions in variables–such as smoking–there has now been more focus on younger patients due to their diagnoses in advanced stages. Kimmie Ng, Director of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, states that, “More and more are getting diagnosed with cancer that might not be curable and improvements have slowed, and they've slowed because of this opposite trend we’re seeing in younger people.”

The authors of the American Chemical Society Journal (ACS) state that by 2023, there is an expectancy of 153,000 new diagnoses, including 19,500 under the age of 50. Part of this is because doctors sometimes misinterpret the frequent symptoms for something else in their age category, missing the signs of this potential cancer.

Researchers do not definitely know the reason why rates among younger people are increasing. Factors they think might contribute are unhealthy diets, alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity. However, they do not all explain the trend in the rising of diagnoses. Other researchers believe that it might have to do with environmental changes and the reshaping of microorganisms in the body called microbiomes. But none are quite sure as they have seen individuals with healthy lifestyles get diagnosed with colon cancer. That highlights the need for earlier screening in absence of symptoms.

[Source: The Wall Street Journal; CNN.com]

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