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Colorectal cancer on the rise in young adults

Rates of colorectal cancer are rising by 6% per year in young adults

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Incidence rates for colorectal cancer (CRC) increased by 6% every year between 2008 and 2016 across Europe in adults aged 20 to 39 years, research* presented yesterday at United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna, Austria, shows.

The researchers accessed data from 20 European cancer registries to analyse trends in incidence rates of colorectal cancer in young adults. These countries included: Belgium, Catalonia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom

For colon cancer, incidence rates increased by 1.5% per year between 1990-2008 and by 7.4% annually between 2008-2016 in adults aged 20 to 39 years. For rectal cancer, incidence rates increased by 1.8% per year from 1990-2016.

In adults aged 40 to 49 years, overall colorectal cancer incidence rates increased by 1.4% every year from 2005.

Dr Fanny Vuik explained: "We are aware of investigations in the North American population that demonstrates that colorectal cancer is increasing in young adults. In Europe, however, information until now has been limited and it's worrying to see the startling rates at which colorectal cancer is increasing in the young."

Traditionally colorectal cancer is considered a disease that affects people over the age of 50.

Studies have found that young-onset CRC is often more aggressive and more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage than CRC in older populations, she added.

"The cause for this upward trend is still unknown, although it may be related to increasingly sedentary lifestyles, obesity and poor diets, all of which are known colorectal cancer risk factors", Dr Vuik said.

"Increased awareness and further research to elucidate causes for this trend are needed and may help to set up screening strategies to prevent and detect these cancers at an early and curable stage."

The NHS offers bowel cancer screening from the age of 55.

"The highest increase in incidence was found in adults between 20-29 years of age. Therefore, identifying those young adults at high risk of CRC is essential to ensuring early diagnosis and optimal patient outcomes,” Dr Vuik said.


* Vuik, F. et al. (2018). Increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults in Europe. Presented at UEG Week Vienna, October 22, 2018.

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