More People Under 50 Getting Colon Cancer
More people under 50 are developing colon cancer, an illness usually associated with old age.
Today, one in seven colon cancer patients is under 50, according to researchers at the University of Michigan, and these younger patients are more likely to have advanced stage cancer, where the disease has spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
Part of the reason for this is that these younger patients are often diagnosed only after their cancers start to cause symptoms, such as anemia, bowel bleeding or a blockage in the colon. noted the researchers.
Presently, it's recommended that people only start being screened for colon cancer at the age of 50.
The study culled federal government data on nearly 260,000 patients diagnosed with colon cancer between 1998 and 2011. Nearly 15 percent were younger than 50. These patients were more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer and more likely to have surgery than older patients (72 percent versus 63 percent). Radiation therapy was also used more often in younger patients than in older patients (53 percent versus 48 percent).
Younger patients lived a little longer without a cancer recurrence, even though they tended to have more advanced cancer. For patients under 50, about 68 percent survived five years, while about 67 percent of the patients 50 and older survived five years.
"Colon cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of the elderly. 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," said lead author Dr. Samantha Hendren.
However, she stressed that it's too soon to say whether colon cancer screening age guidelines should be lowered to reflect that trend. "This would be a big and costly change," she said, "and I don't know whether it would help more people than it would hurt, so a lot of research would be required to understand this before any changes should be made."
Smoking, obesity and physical inactivity are all risk factors for colon cancer.
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