Colon and Rectal Cancers on the Rise in Young Adults
Colon and rectal cancer rates are rising sharply among Americans in their 20s, according to a new study. Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed why, but the trend should be a wake-up call for young adults to pay closer attention to their health and watch what they eat while their risks are still low.
The study by the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute found that people born in 1990 have four times the risk of rectal cancer and twice the risk of colon cancer as those born in 1950 had at the same age. That’s surprising because the overall rate of colorectal cancer diagnoses has been dropping for decades, one of the researchers told CNN.
The increase probably isn’t because of genetics, which wouldn’t shift over the course of a few decades. That means diet, physical activity and obesity likely play key roles.
Obesity is on the rise in both children and young adults. Total meat consumption, although still quite high, is declining. Yet more people are eating processed and cured meats, such as bacon. The World Health Organization has identified processed meat as a known cause of colorectal cancers, primarily because those foods increase exposure to N-nitroso compounds. These carcinogenic substances are formed when nitrites used as preservatives react with proteins in the meat and in our digestive systems.
At the same time, young people are eating fewer vegetables. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicates that between 2007 and 2010 the amount of vegetables eaten by Americans ages 14 to 30 decreased by about 10 percent compared to consumption by that age group between 2001 and 2004.
That means young people are missing out on good sources of fiber, carotenoids, flavonoids and many other beneficial substances. These substances can act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation and help keep our cells functioning properly.
EWG knows how important diet is to health. Our new Cancer Defense Diet explores foods that have shown great promise in making up a diet that can help lower cancer risk. We investigate what it is about these foods and how we eat them that impacts our health. You can also find advice tailored to your current diet.