More People Under 50 Getting Colon Cancer
Though guidelines suggest screening starts at 50, researcher says it's premature to change them
By Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, Jan. 25, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Colon cancer rates are rising among men and women under 50, the age at which guidelines recommend screenings start, a new analysis shows.
One in seven colon cancer patients is under 50. Younger patients are more likely to have advanced stage cancer, but they live slightly longer without a cancer recurrence because they are treated aggressively, the researchers reported.
"Colon cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of the elderly," said study lead author Dr. Samantha Hendren, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"This study is really a wake-up call to the medical community that a relatively large number of colon cancers are occurring in people under 50," she added.
However, Hendren said it's too soon to say whether colon cancer screening guidelines should be altered to reflect that trend.
In the analysis, colon cancer among younger patients was often found at an advanced stage, meaning the disease has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. "Part of the reason for this is that these young patients are often diagnosed only after their cancers start to cause symptoms, such as anemia, bowel bleeding or a blockage in the colon," Hendren explained.
Doctors should be on the lookout for these warning signs of colon cancer, she added.
Not all bowel bleeding is caused by cancer, she said. "Bright red bleeding with a bowel movement is usually due to hemorrhoids or fissures, but dark blood or blood mixed with the stool is a warning sign," Hendren said.
People with a family history of colon cancer and others who are at higher risk should begin screening earlier than the age of 50, she said. "This is already recommended, but we don't think this is happening consistently, and this is something we need to optimize," she added.
The report was published online Jan. 25 in the journal Cancer.
Dr. Andrew Chan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said the reasons for the increase in colon cancer among younger adults isn't known.