GI cancer rates up 9% in patients younger than 50: 9 things to know

Cancer diagnoses in patients younger than 50 have seen a major jump in the last 20 years, and colon cancer is no exception. 

Gastrointestinal cancers are rising the fastest in young Americans, with colon cancer diagnoses among people younger than 55 increasing from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019, according to a report the American Cancer Society published in March. The report also identified a growing number of young people with more advanced stages of the disease. 

Here are nine things to know about the growing rate of GI cancers in the U.S.: 

1. In 2021, an advisory panel lowered the recommended age for when people should begin colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45. 

2. Researchers suspect more inactive lifestyles, ultra-processed foods and new toxins have raised cancer risks for younger people. 

3. Experts told Becker's three things that the field of oncology needs to do to work on decreasing cancer rates: spreading awareness, integrating support services and balancing priorities. "Now, to see someone in their 20s and 30s, it doesn't wow us anymore," Nancy You, MD, a professor of colon and rectal surgery at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, told Becker's. "Even when I was a fellow in 2008 at Mayo Clinic, we were already seeing young patients with colorectal cancer, and even then we were writing about the increased rates." 

4. Findings from researchers at Cleveland Clinic have revealed that bacteria in tumors from patients with young-onset colorectal cancer are compositionally distinct. Among the younger cohort, researchers found unique tumor-related bacteria and that they were more likely to have left-sided, rectal and advanced stage tumors. 

5. Colon and rectal cancer rates are expected to grow 8% among men and 7% among women in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society. 

6. Overall cancer diagnosis rates among people younger than 50 have risen 13% since 2000, according to federal data.

7. Colon cancer is among the most common types of cancer diagnosed in both women and men, according to a February report from the American Cancer Society.

8. During a single week at Yale Medicine Colon & Rectal Surgery, physicians reported that the oldest patient they diagnosed with colon cancer was 35 and the youngest was 18. 

9. Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City are working on a vaccine that targets a specific gene found in tumors known as KRAS. Early trials of the vaccine candidate have proven to be effective in 84% of patients who had pancreatic or colorectal cancers recur after their initial treatment.

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