This month, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released its newest batch of statistics on cancer in the United States. The report covers how many people are getting cancer, what kinds of cancer are gaining ground, and how many people are dying of cancer – and it paints a concerning picture about colorectal cancer.
“My colleagues and I are diagnosing colon cancer more often than we have in years past and the medical community doesn’t exactly know why. Just two decades ago, this data looked very different,” says Capital Digestive Care gastroenterologist Dr. Akriti Saxena.
Here are three key takeaways from the ACS data.
1. Colon cancer is killing more younger adults
Perhaps the report’s most startling statistics are these:
• Colorectal cancer is now the number one cause of cancer deaths in men younger than 50
• Colorectal cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women younger than 50, second only to breast cancer
Compare that to 1990, when colorectal cancer was the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths for both men and women, and it’s clear that these rates are going in the wrong direction. We’ve known for a while that colorectal cancer rates have been rising among younger adults – in fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force took the unusual step of lowering their recommended screening age from 50 to 45 for people at average risk of colon cancer. This recommendation aligns with the U.S. Multi-Society Task Force on Colorectal Cancer guideline.
2. Colorectal cancer rates are increasing among younger adults
In 2024, there will be an estimated 2 million new cases of cancer in the U.S. It’s the first time that the number of new cases has been so high. Regarding colorectal cancer in particular, rates are increasing specifically among people younger than 55. The ACS researchers posit that the increasing rate may be tied to the country’s obesity epidemic, since obesity raises a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.
3. Colon cancer has a very effective screening tool that can both detect and prevent cancer
The gold standard for detecting colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. This one test can find evidence of cancer, and it can also find and remove colon polyps before they become cancerous – both detecting and preventing colorectal cancer. That means that getting a colonoscopy can reduce your chances of getting colon cancer. And because early detection of colon cancer leads to better survival rates, it can also increase your chance of survival if you do have colon cancer. It’s truly a win-win.
“Colon cancer doesn’t always present with symptoms, especially in the early stages. But if you have rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, or iron deficiency anemia, then please speak with your doctor. Most people should be screened for colon cancer starting at age 45, but if you’re younger than 45 and have concerning symptoms or if you have a family history of colon cancer, then you should speak with your doctor about getting an earlier colonoscopy,” says Dr. Saxena.
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