Recent data from Cancer Statistics 2023 — a paper published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians by the American Cancer Society — showed that colorectal cancer (CRC) has become the deadliest cancer in men aged 20-49 years. Overall, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., with people above age 50 experiencing the majority of diagnoses and deaths. This alarming new data underscores the urgent need to raise awareness among young people, too.
Young-Onset CRC – In Men and Women
Colorectal cancer is often viewed as a disease that affects older people, but the rate of CRC in young adults has been increasing in recent years. According to the latest data, the incidence rate of young-onset colorectal cancer increased by almost 2% each year between 2016 and 2020. More striking is that the overall survival rate among CRC patients younger than 50 (68%) is no better than their peers aged 50-64 (69%).
There are many possible reasons for the rise of young-onset CRC. Some attribute it to poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, and increasing rates of obesity. The Alliance is funding research to identify causes of young-onset CRC, but there is no definitive answer yet.
One thing is known for certain: The earlier CRC is caught, the greater a patient’s chances are of survival. Young people should be aware of the symptoms of colorectal cancer and learn about their family health history. If they are experiencing symptoms, they should push healthcare providers for answers and seek second opinions when necessary.
Young-Onset CRC – In Men compared with Women
In 2020, approximately 2,100 men between the ages of 20-49 died from CRC, according to the data. This accounts for 17% of all cancer-related deaths in males of this age group and makes CRC the single largest cause of cancer-related deaths in young men under 50.
Comparatively, approximately 1,200 females between ages 20-49 died from CRC in 2020, accounting for an average of 9% of all cancer-related deaths in this age group.
It is staggering, then, to note that men ages 20-49 are nearly two times as likely to die from colorectal cancer than women of the same age.
Symptoms of CRC
Early detection is an important factor in the successful treatment of colorectal cancer. Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include changes in bowel habits, blood in the stool, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, and fatigue. People experiencing these symptoms should speak with a healthcare provider right away about getting checked for colorectal cancer.
A Call-to-Action from the Alliance
“What we want people to understand is the seriousness of this disease,” said Michael Sapieniza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “Yet, unlike most other cancers, colorectal cancer is highly treatable if detected early. We need to continue to encourage and educate young men and women on the importance of knowing their risk, getting screened, and ending this disease once and for all.”
Andrea Goodman, Senior Vice President of Patient Support and Research Strategy with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said there is still a lot of reason for hope.
“While these new findings may seem bleak, there is a formula for ending this deadly disease,” she said. “We’re accelerating screening, personalized treatment, research advancements, and equitable access to support patients and the public.”
Learn about which colorectal cancer screening options are best for you based on your personal risk factors. Take the Alliance’s screening quiz.
While science doesn’t show why more men under 50 are dying from colorectal cancer than women of the same age, there are several ways that we can work to improve these statistics. Preventative strategies include the following:
- Begin regular colorectal screening at age 45.
- Speak with a healthcare provider about earlier screenings if you have risk factors including symptoms, certain genetic conditions, or a family history of cancer.
- Speak up, and #WalkLoud to end the stigma against CRC.
- Talk with a healthcare provider about making healthy lifestyle choices.
“The Alliance is dedicated to helping people through every step of the process from prevention, to treatment, to survivorship,” said Marcie Klein, Senior Vice President of Prevention at the Alliance. “We aim to turn hopelessness into hope and empower people to take back control of their health.”
Whether personally impacted by colorectal cancer (CRC), supporting a loved one, or dedicated to educating and empowering others, these downloadable and printable resources can help.
Don Shippey was 55 years old in 2016 when he decided he’d been putting off his colonoscopy long enough.
It’s a lot easier to prevent colorectal cancer than it is to cure it.