A study published yesterday by the American Cancer Society shows a significant increase in colorectal cancers among Generation X and Millennials. The authors say people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer, and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer. That’s compared to the risk someone born in 1950 would’ve faced at a similar age.
Dr. John Marshall, the director of the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer at Georgetown University, joined us to discuss the study.
“Every textbook I ever read said that it’s supposed to be in people over the age of 50 — more common 60, 70, 80,” Marshall told us. “We have seen this alarming trend of very young people showing up with the disease that supposed to be in an older generation.”
The reasons behind this rise aren’t clear, Marshall said. While some researchers have wondered if the rise of obesity and decline in exercise, Marshall noted that many of the young patients he’s seen with colorectal cancers are what he calls “marathon running, cardboard eating people — they’ve never really done anything wrong in their lives.” Other research is exploring theories that changing behaviors are also altering our microbiome, such that society has shifted individual microbiomes toward a more carcinogenic bacteria in the colon.
It remains expensive and invasive to automatically screen all young people for colon cancer, but ongoing research will help shift screening behaviors and general understanding of the change in diagnoses, Marshall told us.