Colorectal cancer is now among the leading causes of cancer deaths for young adults, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Each year, the ACS compiles data on the numbers of new cancer cases and deaths in the U.S., which are published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.
Colorectal cancer has steadily grown among adults younger than 50, the report noted.
In the late 1990s, it was the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in that age group.
As of 2024, it ranks as the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and the second leading cause in women.
US advocacy organization Fight Colorectal Cancer installed blue flags on Washington Monument grounds to raise awareness about colon cancer on March 16, 2023 in Washington D.C., United States on March 16, 2023 (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via
Dr. Aparna Parikh, medical director of the Center for Young Adult Colorectal Cancer at the Mass General Cancer Center, who is not affiliated with the ACS, said she is "alarmed but not surprised" by the rising colorectal rates among young people — and particularly by the fact that colon cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death for men under 50.
The colorectal cancer research community has been working to determine why rates are rising among young adults, Parikh said.
"We don't entirely understand why yet, but it seems to be an interplay of a person’s risk factors, overall makeup and early exposures," she told Fox News Digital in an email.
"The exposures include dietary exposures, environmental exposures and possible antibiotic exposures, as well as lifestyle factors in the right host," Parikh added.
There are many people who have healthy lifestyle habits and no apparent risk factors who go on to develop colorectal cancer, the doctor noted — "and then there are plenty of patients who have less than ideal habits."
She said, "It really is an interplay between the right person and the right exposures."
Some primary risk factors include family history, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol, a diet high in red and processed meats, inflammatory bowel disease and a personal history or family history of polyps, according to Parikh.
To reduce cases in younger patients, the doctor stressed the importance of raising public awareness of the disease around recognizing symptoms early.
She also recommended certain healthy lifestyle habits, including avoiding or limiting red meat, not smoking, exercising regularly and adopting a more Mediterranean-based diet.
Early screening is also important, Parikh noted.
"Screening at [age] 45 is [the] standard of care, and the gold standard is colonoscopy — but there are also stool-based tests that are appropriate," she said.
"If you are having any symptoms like weight loss, blood in stool, anemia or change in bowel habits, you should go straight to colonoscopy."
Overall, the ACS expects that over 2 million new cancer cases and 611,720 cancer deaths will occur in the U.S. in 2024.
Although overall cancer mortality has been dropping — likely as a result of earlier detection, improved treatments and healthy lifestyle behaviors — the report stated that several types of cancers have increased in prevalence.
In addition to colorectal cancer, cervical cancer also rose 1% to 2% annually among adults between 30 and 44 years of age.
Among all age groups, cancer rates rose 0.6% to 1% annually for breast, pancreas and uterine corpus cancers, and 2% to 3% annually for prostate, liver (female), kidney and human papillomavirus-associated oral cancers and for melanoma, the report stated.
The data in the ACS report was drawn from central cancer registries and mortality data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Fox News Digital reached out to the ACS for additional comment.
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