Why is colorectal cancer becoming more common among younger adults?

25 Jan, 2022


Colorectal cancer involves the cancer of the colon and rectum. There is an increasing incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults. The reasons for this are many. Therefore, it is essential to prevent the risk factors and increase awareness of colorectal cancer in young adults.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Common symptoms of colorectal cancer are:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Changes in the bowel movement
  • Bloating or cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss

Reasons for Increasing Incidence in Young Adults

There are several reasons for the development of colorectal cancer in young adults, and the main reasons include:

1. Poor Dietary Habits

Poor dietary habits and increased intake of the western diet are primary causes of colorectal cancer in young adults. Lately, there is a reduced intake of fibrous diet in the younger population – this serves as one of the risk factors for colorectal cancer. Studies have reported that the western diet, rich in red meat, eggs and processed meat, increases cancer risk in both men and women. However, a diet rich in raw vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, cooked vegetables, legumes, tubers, etc., reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.

2. Sedentary Lifestyle

There is an increased prevalence of sedentary lifestyle in young adults. Several studies have concluded a positive association between sedentary behaviour and the occurrence of colon and rectal cancer.? A sedentary lifestyle reduces the overall energy expenditure, increasing the risk of cancer. Sedentary behaviour involves prolonged lying down or sitting without moving the body. It results in metabolic dysfunction and several other medical conditions. Physical inactivity, such as not exercising and playing, is another risk factor for colorectal cancer.

3. Obesity

Obesity is increasingly growing in young adults between 18 to 25 years. According to an estimate, obesity in this population is around 2.3% to 12%. The overweight prevalence in young adults is about 29%.? Obese people are approximately 30% more likely to get colorectal cancer than healthy individuals. Higher BMI makes men more vulnerable to colorectal cancer than women.

4. Environmental Factors?

Several environmental factors also increase the incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults. It includes pollutants and pesticides. It is crucial to note that the cancer-causing substances present in the red meat are also present in the environment in the form of dust, cigarette smoke and automobile fumes. Pesticides were also linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.? A study has also reported that insecticides aldicarb and fonofos elevate the risk of colorectal cancer.

5. Underlying Medical Conditions

Several underlying medical conditions increase the risk of colorectal cancer. These conditions include diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and bacterial and viral infections, such as H. pylori, HPV and the John Cunningham virus. Several studies have reported that these were the risk factors in early-onset colorectal cancer. Inflammatory bowel disorders include Crohns disease or ulcerative colitis.

6. Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

The prevalence of smoking in young adults has almost tripled from 8% to 22% in recent years. Studies have reported that people who smoke are 18% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-smokers. In addition to smoking, young adults have a high prevalence of alcohol consumption. Compared to people with no alcohol consumption, people who drink moderate to heavy alcohol are at a 1.2 to 1.5 times increased risk of developing colon cancer.

7. Genetic Factors

Several genetic factors increase the risk of colorectal cancer. There is a difference between the genetic risk factors in early-onset colorectal cancer and old-onset colorectal cancer. Several patients with colorectal cancer possess genetic variants with moderate to high cancer susceptibility. The genetic conditions that increase the risk of colorectal cancer are Lynch Syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis and polyposis syndromes. There is a double prevalence of the pathogenic germline variants in young people.?

8. Other Reasons

Several other reasons increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer in young adults. Increased use of antibiotics alters the gastrointestinal microbiota. It may initiate a biological pathway that may promote colorectal cancer. Hormonal interventions increase birth size, which is associated with increased adulthood obesity. Obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer. There is also an association of colorectal cancer with childhood obesity.

Prevention and Screening

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known. However, some factors increase the risk of this condition. By managing the risk factors, a person can significantly reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Some measures to prevent colorectal cancer are:
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle and include exercise and sports in daily routine
  • Incorporate fibrous foods and raw fruits and vegetables into your diet. Avoid eating red and processed meat.
  • If you are overweight or obese, manage your weight.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Quit smoking
  • Consult your doctor if you think that you are having any of the symptoms that are associated with colorectal cancer.

Screening helps in preventing and early diagnosis of colorectal cancer. Screening is critical in people at high risk for developing this condition. People who smoke, have more of a western diet, consume moderate to heavy alcohol, and have a family history of colorectal cancer should undergo screening.

Generally, colorectal cancer is recommended for people above 50 years. However, keeping in view the rising incidences of colorectal cancer in younger adults, doctors recommend that screening depends upon the risk factors in young adults. The doctor may perform the screening through colonoscopy. The doctor finds the polyps and removes them to prevent their progression to cancer.

Bottom Note

A good number of reasons listed here are lifestyle-based or modifiable risk factors – this implies that with the right measures we can reduce our risk of developing colorectal cancer. Having a healthier lifestyle will not just help you reduce the risk of colorectal cancers but also many other types of cancers that are associated with modifiable risk factors.?

If you are a high-risk individual for colorectal cancer, you should consider regular screening, which will help you in catching the condition in its early stage when it is relatively easier to treat.

You can reach out to our specialists at HCG to schedule your colorectal cancer screening. All you have to do is to give us a call on +919513165955 or fill your registration form here.

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