Colorectal Cancer Rates Rising, Experts Unsure Why

Whites demonstrate 'concerning' increase in colon cancer mortality

"We looked at adults from ages 20 to 54 and following several decades of pretty rapid declines in death rates, over the past decade deaths in this age group have been increasing", lead investigator Rebecca Siegel, strategic director of surveillance information services at the American Cancer Society, told CBS News.

For other ethnic groups, the combined mortality rate declined from 1970 to 2006 and then stabilized. Meanwhile, the rate rose 1.6 percent a year for white thirty-somethings, and about 1 percent annually for whites in their early 50s, the researchers found.

In the white sample, mortality remained unchanged among 20-29 year-olds between 1988 and 2014 but increased by 1.6 percent per year between 1995 and 2014 among 30-39 year-olds and 1.9 percent annually among the 40-49 age group between 2005 and 2014.

They were also surprised by the progression of colorectal cancer mortality in those aged over 50 because screening starting around age 50 has been recommended for decades. "This was particularly surprising because colorectal cancer screening helps lower death rates in two ways - by preventing cancer and by detecting it early when treatment is more effective".

In recent years, reports have consistently shown colorectal cancer rates have been rising in Americans under the age of 55.

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"However, if this were the primary explanation, it would have been expected to cause an increase in colorectal cancer rates among blacks as well as whites", said Chan, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard.

"Delayed initiation of screening is likely behind these lower rates, as well as other barriers like insurance coverage, which is lower in ages 50 to 54 years than older adults because of the universal coverage offered by Medicare beginning at 65 years", Siegel said. In contrast, the mortality rates for blacks in their 50s has declined since 1993. "It's probably a real increase among young people", Siegel noted. The analysis included more than 242,000 people who died from colorectal cancer during this time.

Experts are divided as to whether the findings should prompt a change in screening guidelines. Turns out, it was stage 4 colon cancer.

Shepard is speaking out about a new study conducted by the American Cancer Society.

Colon cancer symptoms may include rectal bleeding, change in bowel movement and abdominal discomfort. The 5-year survival for colorectal cancer diagnosed at a localized stage is 90%, yet 28% of young patients are diagnosed at a distant stage, for which 5-year survival is just 14%. The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.

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