Colon Cancer Rates Increasing in Young and Middle Aged Adults under 50

Colon cancer rates have been decreasing over the last several decades. However recent research suggests that over the last 20 years the disease has been increasing among young and early middle-aged American adults.

Of concern are colon cancer rates among men and women between the ages of 20 and 49, a group that generally isn’t covered by public health guidelines.

Results of the study were recently published in the Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology.

Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States (and the number two cause of cancer deaths). Increased screening rates have resulted in an overall decrease in colon cancer rates, according to research information in the study.

Data analysis of the U.S. National Cancer Institute study, published last November in JAMA Surgery, revealed that colon cancer rates had decreased by approximately 1 percent each year between 1975 and 2010.

And yet that study also indicated that during the same time period, the rate among people aged 20 to 34 had actually increased by 2 percent annually, while those between 35 and 49 had seen a half-percent yearly uptick.

“This is real,” said study co-author Jason Zell, an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Irvine.
“We’re not saying the proportion is shifting,” Zell stressed. “Most colon cancer is still happening to older people. But I do think we need to do a much better job at early-age detection. Because another thing we observed is that those young adults who get colon cancer have a higher stage of cancer at diagnosis. And that has terrible implications when we look at survival.”

“Because the actual risk among young people is still quite low, I don’t think by any means that these findings suggest that we need to change what we do in clinical practice,” he said. “But because we don’t really know why this is happening, we have to stop and consider a range of different possibilities. And really think critically about what is it about our lifestyle or environment that may be responsible of this increase in incidence.”


Jason Zell, D.O., M.P.H., assistant professor, department of medicine and department of epidemiology and Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of California, Irvine; Andrew Chan, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, department of medicine, Harvard Medical School, and associate professor of medicine, gastroenterology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Dec. 15, 2014, Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology