Rise in Younger Colon Cancer Patients Is a New Worry

Patients under 50 are at least as likely to die from the disease as older people: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2021 12:21 PM CDT
Younger Colon Cancer Patients May Have Worse Outcomes
   (Getty/Andrei Vasilev)

This spring, the US Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age at which Americans should begin colon cancer screening from 50 to 45, citing an increase in cases in younger adults. As HealthDay News reports, cases in Americans under the age of 50 rose from 6% in 1990 to 11% in 2013, "even as overall incidence fell." Now, new research is adding to the alarm. It finds those diagnosed with colon cancer—the third-leading cause of death for men and women in the US—before the age of 50 "are just as likely to die from the disease as older people" and "in some cases, maybe even more likely," Axios reports.

The study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at 2,326 colon cancer patients, 514 (22%) of whom were under the age of the 50 at the start of the study, meaning their cases were considered young-onset colorectal cancer. Surprisingly, there was "no statistically significant differences in survival" between these individuals and older patients with metastatic colorectal cancer—despite that the younger patients "had fewer comorbidities," "better performance status," "were more physically active," and had "less side effects" from treatment, study co-author Dr. Kimmie Ng of the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute tells Axios.

Indeed, patients younger than age 35 years had the shortest overall survival, with an average of 21.95 months compared to 26.12 months in older-onset patients. (The average survival time for all patients under 50 was 27.07 months.) The difference is not statistically significant as there were relatively few participants under 35, but it meshes with previous research suggesting younger patients have worse outcomes, per HealthDay. It's important now to understand why, study co-author Dr. Marla Lipsyc-Sharf tells the outlet. "If current trends hold, colorectal cancer is projected to be the second leading cancer and leading cause of cancer death in patients ages 20 to 49 by the year 2040." (More colon cancer stories.)

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