Increase Found in Early Diagnosis of Colorectal Cancer


Nearly 15% of colorectal cancers diagnosed before the recommended screening age of 50.

One in seven patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) in the US were below the age of 50 at the time of diagnosis, which is the typical age recommended to begin screening.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center conducted a study that found younger patients were likely to have advanced disease. This was primarily because younger patients are often diagnosed only after their cancers have grown and spread wide enough to cause symptoms.

The study included 258,024 patients diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database. Results showed younger patients were likely to receive aggressive surgery and radiation therapy.

Furthermore, this group possessed better survival rates — 21% of younger patients survived beyond five years.

Researchers attributed the improved survival rate to the more aggressive treatment, which suggests the need for improved resources for long-term survivorship.

Samantha Hendren, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery, University of Michigan Medical School, commented in a news release. “Colorectal cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of the elderly. 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.”

“To put this in context, breast cancer screening often begins at age 40, and less than 5% of invasive breast cancers occur in women under that age. Our study found that about 15% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed before the screening age of 50,” continued Hendren.

According to the study results, the researchers acknowledged the necessity for increased awareness of CRC warning signs: anemia, a dramatic change in the size or frequency of bowel movements, and bleeding with bowel movements.

Despite the growing incidence of advanced CRC in younger patients, experts don’t believe guidelines should be drastically changed just yet. “This would be a big and costly change, and I don’t know whether it would help more people than it would hurt. A lot of research would be required to understand this before any changes should be made,” remarked Hendren.

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