Oct 27, 2021 - Health

"Alarming" trend in colon cancer cases under 35

Illustration of a repeating pattern of IV drips with random ones highlighted.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Young adults with colon cancer are just as likely to die from the disease as older people — in some cases, maybe even more likely — according to a study to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Why it matters: Colorectal cancer is among the fastest-growing cancers among people younger than 50, and researchers aren't sure why.

What they're saying: "It struck us that these patients were younger, they had fewer comorbidities, they had better performance status and were more physically active and they less side effects from the treatment," said Kimmie Ng, director of the Dana-Farber's Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center.

  • "But their survival was exactly the same," she said.

Between the lines: While her study group had too few patients younger than 35 to have a statistically significant result, Ng said the team observed a "particularly concerning" trend of lower survival rates in that population.

The big picture: In May, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age Americans should start getting screened for colon cancer, from age 50 to age 45.

  • The task force said the recommendation reflected the fact that colon cancer — the third-leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the U.S. — is increasingly occurring among adults younger than 50.

What's next: It's still unknown whether cancers that happen in younger people are biologically different than cancers that happen in older people.

  • "We need to better understand what it is that is different about the very youngest patients," Ng said.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that in some cases young adults with colon cancer can be more likely (not less likely) to die from the disease.

Go deeper