Colorectal cancer rates rocketing in millennials — 5 study insights

After years of decreases, colorectal cancer is reemerging at alarming rates in the millennial generation.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute examined colorectal cancer rates between 1974 and 2013.

Atlanta-based American Cancer Society Epidemiologist Rebecca Siegel, MD, led the study examining 490,305 reported colorectal cancer incidence cases.

Here are five study insights:

1. After decreasing in the 2000s, colon cancer incidence rates increased by 1 percent to 2.4 percent annually in 20 to 39-year-old adults since the mid 1980s.

2. Colon cancer rates rallied by 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent annually in 40 to 54-year-old adults since the mid 1990s.

3. Rectal cancer rates have increased 3.2 percent annually in 20 to 29-year-old adults from 1974 to 2013.

4. In adults 55-years and older, incidence rates have declined since the mid 1980s for colon cancer and since 1974 for rectal cancer.

5. To further reflect that trend, age-specific colorectal cancer risk declined from 1890 to 1950, but then continuously increased through 1990. Compared with adults born in 1950, adults born in 1990 have double the risk of developing colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer.

Dr. Siegel concluded, "Age-specific CRC risk has escalated back to the level of those born circa 1890 for contemporary birth cohorts, underscoring the need for increased awareness among clinicians and the general public, as well as etiologic research to elucidate causes for the trend," before recommending screening should begin before a patient turns 50-years-old.

Cleveland-based Center for Digestive Health gastroenterologist Franjo Vladic, MD, said of the study, "The best screening test for a population is one which the individual is willing to undergo. Thus, if a patient does not want to participate in colonoscopy for screening, then an alternative should be offered to the individual. Cologuard is an alternative to an invasive screening method. Despite society's best effort in promoting colonoscopy for colon screening, we still have individuals not getting screened. Colorectal cancer if detected early has a more favorable outcome."

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