The prevalence of colorectal cancer under the age of fifty years is increasing at an alarming rate. According to Nature (2020), the cases have increased over the past four decades.
Moreover, EOCRC or early-onset colorectal cancer is quite challenging to treat because the pathology occurs significantly. Plus, the cancer cells usually spread to different parts of the body, also termed metastasis.
Medical News Today also mentions why the cases of young-onset colorectal cancer are increasing these days. Before discussing its reasons, let’s get familiar with the term colorectal cancer.
Colorectal Cancer: What is it?
Colorectal cancer, as the name suggests, begins in the rectum or colon. This type of cancer is also called colon cancer, bowel cancer, or rectal cancer. Colon and rectal cancer are grouped because of their similar features.
Colorectal cancer usually begins due to the abnormal growth of cells. These cells grow out of control in the inner lining of the rectum or colon. The abnormal growth of cells is known as polyps. These polyps transform into cancer after an extended period.
Colorectal Cancer Prevalence
An article cited in Mayo Clinic Proc. 2014 stated that colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most lethal and the second most common cancer. Beyond one-tenth of CRC cases (18% rectal cancer and 11% colon cancer) occur in younger individuals.
The data cited in CDC (2017) showed that 52,547 people died from colorectal cancer in the US. Moreover, the death rates were falling gradually since 1999, and this type of cancer affected 90% of individuals over fifty years of age.
However, in recent years CRC is affecting individuals at a younger age (<50 years). Its incidence is increasing by 2% each year. Not to mention, early-onset CRC worsens the individual’s situation in contrast to people who are diagnosed with this disease later in life.
American Cancer Society recommends people get themselves screened for CRC at the age of forty-five instead of fifty.
The Connection Between Early Onset CRC and Dietary and Lifestyle Changes
A recent study mentioned in JNCI Cancer Spectrum (2021) investigated the reasons for this ever-growing concern. The team researched to find out the connection between dietary and lifestyle habits and early-onset CRC.
The researchers collected and assessed the data from three different sources from thirteen population-based studies, i.e., the Genetics and Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer Consortium, the Colorectal Transdisciplinary Study, and the Colon Cancer Family Registry.
Their dataset included 3767 CRC cases and 4049 controls under the age of fifty years. They also focused on 23 437 CRC cases and 35 311 controls over the age of fifty years.
Researchers verified each individual’s case via death certificates, pathology reports, and medical records. They used the samples of only European descents in this study.
The research team discovered that the early onset CRC was associated with:
- Irregular use of NSAIDs
- Heavier alcohol usage
- Greater consumption of red meat
- Lower consumption of fiber
The study also found a link between insufficient calcium, fiber, and folate intake with early-onset CRC. Moreover, diabetic history, higher BMI, and smoking did not cause early-onset CRC; however, these factors were associated with later onset CRC.
The Reasons Behind the Upsurge in Early Onset CRC
The study’s co-author, Dr. Campbell, mentioned that they are not entirely aware of the early onset CRC risk factors. However, their study found a few nongenetic factors that can contribute to CRC.
These factors include high consumption of alcohol and red meat. Plus, people who do not take NSAIDs and aspirin are more likely to develop this disease.
What’s more, dietary habits have changed profoundly over the years. These changes might have increased the risk of this disease.
People these days are consuming more processed foods like processed ham, nuggets, ready-to-eat frozen foods, and refined bread. Their diet also consists of high-intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and soft drinks.
Furthermore, individuals are not consuming vegetables and fruits in recommended amounts; thus, leading to calcium, fiber, and folate deficiency.
Their unhealthy dietary habits are also accompanied by greater alcohol consumption, high body mass index (BMI), and a sedentary lifestyle.
This large-scale research only showed the nongenetic risk factors that can cause early-onset CRC; however, more biomarker studies are required.
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