Better with age no longer applies just to a fine wine. It is also true of obesity-related cancers like colorectal cancer. Recent trends are showing a steady increase in both obesity and colorectal cancer in people under age 50—all while the percentages of people over 50 continue to decrease. Researchers are still working to understand the whys, but there are important things a person can do to reduce his or her risk, and a big one is weight loss.
Obesity in Young People
Close to one in every 12 cancer cases in the U.S. is caused by obesity. With the rate of obesity steadily increasing over the past 40 years, it follows that obesity-related cancers are also on the rise. In people between the ages of 20 and 39, around 36% are obese. For the 40 to 59 age group, this percentage is close to 43%. Obesity-related cancers have increased so much in the 25 to 49 age group that the rate of increase has surpassed that of the older population. In fact, researchers are concerned that if the trend continues, it could undo the progress made in reducing instances of cancer over the past several years.
Obesity accounts for 12 different types of cancer. Of the 12, six types have had severe increases in young people—uterine, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney, bone marrow, and colon—and recurrence of each of these has trended upward in this age group as well.
Colorectal Cancer in Young People
From 2009 to 2013, colorectal cancer decreased in every adult age group except adults under 50, where it increased by 1.6% every year. The death rate from colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 also increased following several years of decline.
It is not fully understood why this increase is happening, but researchers and doctors speculate about a few possible causes. The decline in people over 50 is strongly linked to the push for screening colonoscopies. The increase in people under 50 is more of a puzzle, but some information is filtering to the forefront. One is the expanse and availability of technology that promotes a sedentary lifestyle. Things like video games, streaming services, and social media require little to no physical activity and tend to be very time-consuming.
There is also a connection between childhood obesity and increased colorectal cancer risk. Someone who was obese as a child is more likely to develop colon or rectal cancer later on, even when compared with people of the same body makeup and weight distribution who were not obese as children. With childhood obesity on the rise, this could have something to do with early-onset colorectal cancer increase.
Prevention in Young People
No matter the exact reasons, the upward trend of colorectal cancer incidence in young people is concerning and warrants attention. One way that the medical community is responding is by lowering the recommended age to begin colonoscopy screenings from age 50 to 45. Also, if you have a family history of colon or rectal cancer, it is recommended that you begin screenings even earlier.
Another way to address the issue is through education and developing healthy habits at an early age. Obesity is one of the most preventable risks of cancer, and never becoming obese can help prevent many types of cancers as well as diabetes, heart disease, and several other serious illnesses. Parents should work closely with their family pediatrician about creating healthy lifestyles and how to help if a child is trending toward obesity. Research is also showing that making weight and diet a regular part of annual checkups may help in treating or preventing obesity. Reducing the rate of obesity would very likely have a positive effect on the rate of colorectal cancer in young people.
If you struggle with obesity, or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, and you are wondering about your risks, visit Dr. Sameer Islam today. Requesting an appointment is easy and can be done through our website. We look forward to seeing you soon and discussing how you can achieve and maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.