In a report published today online in the journal Cancer, researchers analyzed U.S. statistics and found that about one in seven colon cancer patients is younger than 50 years old, the age at which current guidelines recommend screening begins.
According to the study, of 258,024 colon cancer patients diagnosed from 1998 - 2011, 37,847 were under the age of 50. At nearly 15 percent, this early-onset population has increased notably over the past several decades.
Interestingly younger patients were more likely to be diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease, when the cancer spread to distant organs. Researchers speculate that this pattern could be attributed to incorrect initial diagnoses due to misconceptions about colon cancer, the lack of symptoms with which the disease typically presents, and significantly lower screening rates.
Because younger patients tend to receive colon cancer diagnoses in later stages, they undergo more aggressive treatment and the study showed that they typically lived longer without a cancer recurrence.
In a press release, Dr. Samantha Hendren, MD, MPH, lead author of the study noted, "This study is really a wake-up call to the medical community that a relatively large number of colorectal cancers are occurring in people under 50."
"Also, people with a positive family history for colorectal cancer (in first-degree relatives such as parents or siblings) and some others who are at higher risk should begin screening earlier than 50. This is already recommended, but we don’t think this is happening consistently, and this is something we need to optimize."
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