Colorectal Cancer Cases Increasing in Younger Patients
The Disease Also Occurs at Higher Rates in Black People Than in Whites
Colorectal cancer typically is thought of as a disease that affects only older people. That no longer is the case.
While those 65 and older still make up most cases, colorectal cancer increasingly afflicts people under age 50, who are expected to account for 12% of all U.S. cases in 2020, according to the American Cancer Society.
“Over the last several years, we’ve seen a jump in colorectal cancer cases in people in their 20s, 30s and 40s” said Zuri Murrell, MD, a colorectal surgeon and cancer specialist at Cedars-Sinai. “That is an alarming trend.”
Also worrisome to cancer specialists is the high rate of colorectal cancer among Black people. They account for the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the U.S. – about 20% greater than that of non-Hispanic whites – according to a March 2020 American Cancer Society report. Their death rate from 2013-2017 was almost 40% higher than that of whites, and they typically have a more advanced stage of disease when diagnosed. Even when the disease is caught early, Black people have significantly worse survival rates.
Experts believe that diabetes, smoking, obesity and a family history of colorectal cancer may play roles in the increase of colorectal cancer cases in young people and in the high rates of the disease in the Black population. Black patients also don’t always have access to specialist care for diagnosis and treatment, Murrell said. Their rate of colonoscopies is lower than that of white patients.
Colorectal cancer is serious. But it is curable if caught early. That’s the message I want to drive home.
Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. in men and women combined, according to the cancer society. About 104,600 new cases of colon cancer and 43,300 new cases of rectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020.
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. It also may be called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the disease starts, the cancer society says. The two cancers share many features. Symptoms may include persistent abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits that can include constipation and diarrhea, cramps, bloating, blood mixed with stool, unexplained weight loss and fatigue.
“Young people often dismiss early symptoms of colorectal cancer because they think they can’t get it,” Murrell said. “That’s why I always emphasize that patients should see their primary care physician when symptoms begin, and if they persist, see a specialist, who probably will recommend a colonoscopy.”
Murrell, who also specializes in anal cancer, gastrointestinal disorders and colonoscopies, regularly addresses audiences at churches and community centers in underserved communities in Los Angeles, where he is known for demystifying colon cancer and for his straight talk about the importance of screening.
“Colorectal cancer is serious,” Murrell says. “But it is curable if caught early. That’s the message I want to drive home.”
Read more about colorectal cancer on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Dodging a Colonoscopy?