It’s often thought that cancer is an old person’s disease. We occasionally see a child or young adult with cancer, but we think to ourselves “that’s an anomaly. That doesn’t happen outside of the few, rare cases.”
In reality, millennials are seeing a spike in cancer diagnosis. This age range usually compasses those in their early 20s to early 30s. This is obviously not what most would consider “old” — in fact, this is incredibly young for a cancer epidemic.
And that’s what it is. Studies now show that a large portion of millennials are now being diagnosed with colon cancer, and the cases aren’t just anomalies — they’re a disturbing trend that researchers are looking to put a stop to.
The Real Statistics
Let’s get into specifics. While colorectal cancer diagnosis are on the decline for adults 55 and older, scientists and cancer experts are now wondering if screenings should be recommended for ages younger than 50 due to increased diagnosis in age ranges younger than 55. The National Cancer institute has found that both young adults in their 20s and 30s, as well as middle aged adults in their 40s and early 50s, have increased rates of colorectal cancer diagnosis.
Between the mid 1980s and 2013, those in their 20s and 30s have seen a one to two percent increase per year in the rate of colon cancer diagnosis. During that same time, rectal cancer diagnosis rates in that same age group increased about three percent per year. Specifically, 14.6 percent of rectal cancer diagnosis was reported in patients in their 20s in 1989-1990. In 2012-2013, that number increased to 29.2 percent.
When researchers compared the potential for rectal cancer in people 20 and older, they found that those born around 1990 had double and quadruple the risk of colon and rectal cancer respectively as compared to those born around 1950.
For adults in their 40s and early 50s, the rates increased at a slower but noticeable pace. Combining these statistics, three in 10 new cases of rectal cancer are now found to be diagnosed in patients younger than 55. Compared to 1990, this is double the ratio. Researches had noticed a trend in recent years, but after compiling the evidence as a whole were shocked to find just how drastically noticeable the increase has been.
With such damning statistics must come some awareness of why this is happening, right? Wrong — as of this posting, researches still don’t know what’s really behind this sharp increase in colorectal cancer in younger patients.
There are, however, theories as to what the causes could be. At first glance, the changing diet of Generation X and millennials as compared to older generations could be a culprit. How people eat today as compared to 50 years ago is drastically different when taking into consideration how our food processing and preservation industry functions.
Diets now are higher in fat and unnatural sugars, people are more sedentary and this leads to excess weight. Simultaneously, people aren’t eating as much fiber as they used to. The colon and digestive system are greatly affected by a person’s bad diet, which may be where this spike in diagnosis is coming from.
Some have also considered that HPV might be the cause for these cancers, but researchers have already established that can’t be the case. While HPV is the cause for some squamous cell cancers that occur in the anus, colorectal cancers don’t fall into this same category.
In some cases where a younger person is diagnosed, their health is impeccable. Jessica Dilts, diagnosed with rectal cancer at 34, was in shape and had dedicated her life to fitness as a long distance runner. However, her cancer was so severe that it had already spread to her lungs and liver. She is now expected to be on maintenance chemotherapy indefinitely.
This is bad news in a certain way. If the causes is as simple as a person’s diet, it can be easier to convince others to change their ways for their health. Now that examples showcase that this cancer spike seems to be indiscriminate to healthy and unhealthy lifestyles, researchers are back at the drawing board.
It’s important for millennials and young adults that fall into this age group to understand that most of them still won’t get colorectal cancer, but that the possibility is there. If you fall into this age group, talk to your general physician about a cancer screening just to be safe. Watch for signs like blood in stool, prolonged constipation or abnormal bowel habits. Right now, the best way to beat this spike is to stay as alert as possible.
Researches are hard at work looking for the cause of this spike. With patience, hope and support, they will one day find it.