Cancer Impacting Younger Generations
- Chrissy Teigen, 37, TV personality and wife of John Legend, is spreading awareness among younger people to be more proactive regarding their health amid a rise in cancer rates for people younger than 50.
- A new study published in JAMA Network Open found higher cancer incidents among younger people. While breast cancer saw the highest number of cases, gastrointestinal cancers like colorectal cancers saw the starkest increase.
- Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
- A colonoscopy is a procedure doctors use to screen for colon cancer by looking inside your colon.
- Researchers say increased obesity rates and environmental factors likely contribute to the growing number of young people diagnosed with cancer.
- The study also found that people of American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islander, Alaska Native, and Hispanic descent saw more cancer cases among young people. While the cancer incidence rate among white people remained stable, Black people saw a decrease.
Singer John Legend’s wife Chrissy Teigen, 37, is raising awareness of colon cancer among young people. She recently shared what it was like to undergo a colonoscopy at the request of her doctor due to the alarming trend. Now a new study published in JAMA Network Open adds fuel to the notion cancers among people younger than 50 are on the rise.
“I have my first colonoscopy tomorrow because I was told by my doctor that people are getting it younger and younger and they should go in earlier and earlier to get checked now,” Teigen said, according to People Magazine.Read More
Researchers said the increase in cancer rates among younger people is likely associated with increased “obesity as well as changes in environmental exposures, such as smoke and gasoline, sleep patterns, physical activity, microbiota (microorganisms living in a particular environment) and carcinogenic compounds (chemical compounds that cause cancer in people).”
The study also found people of American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic descent saw a higher incidence of early-onset cancer. The incidence rate for cancer among people younger than 50 remained stable for white people and declined for people of African descent.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the incidence rate of cancers among people older than age 50 saw a decrease in diagnoses.
“Soon there’s going to be a very large jump in people my age and even a little younger getting colon cancer because we don’t get checked. And we don’t get checked because we’re not told to,” Teigen added.
With increased knowledge, hopefully, more people younger than 50 will take heed to messages by medical experts and pop culture influencers like Teigan to be proactive toward their health through preventative screenings.
Young People and Colon Cancer
The study published on Aug. 16, emphasized colorectal cancers saw the biggest increase in cases among people younger than 50.
Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that affects your large intestine (colon) or the end of your intestine (rectum).
WATCH: Dr. Heather Yeo dispels common misconceptions about colon cancer.
The cancer starts when abnormal lumps called polyps grow in the colon or rectum. If you don’t have these polyps removed, they can sometimes change into cancer. It takes up to 10 years for a colon polyp to become full-blown cancer, according to SurvivorNet experts.
Most colon cancers can be prevented if people are regularly screened. The screening usually involves a colonoscopy, in which a long thin tube attached to a camera is used to examine the colon and rectum. If no polyps are discovered, the next screening won’t be needed for about 10 years.
More on Colon Cancer
“Lowering the screening age helps somewhat with this, but access to care is a real problem,” Yeo added.
The American Gastrointestinal Association lowered the recommended initial age for a colorectal screening from 50 to 45. However, experts recommend screening earlier for some people who may be at an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
“We don’t know for sure why we are seeing earlier onset and death from colon cancer,” Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist who specializes in colorectal cancers at Weill Cornell Medicine, told SurvivorNet.
Research published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians found the proportion of cases in people younger than 55 years old “increased from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019.”
“We know rates are increasing in young people, but it’s alarming to see how rapidly the whole patient population is shifting younger, despite shrinking numbers in the overall population,” cancer epidemiologist and lead study author Rebecca Siegel told Axios.
Research is ongoing to determine why younger people are being diagnosed in larger numbers.
“It is likely a combination of factors, including diet and genetics as well as access to care and some environmental factors,” Dr. Yeo added.
Phil Daschner, a program director in the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Biology, stressed that research continues on this phenomenon because “it may affect [approaches for] the treatment and survivorship of early-onset colon cancer.”
How to Screen for Colon Cancer?
A colonoscopy is a procedure doctors use to screen for colon cancer by looking inside your colon.
This procedure requires your colon to be “cleaned out.” To clear out your colon, your doctor will prescribe a “bowel prep,” which is a liquid you drink the night before the procedure. The prep acts as a laxative that causes you to have multiple loose stools before your procedure.
Once your colon is cleared out, the gastroenterologist performing the procedure can have a clear look to evaluate if any polyps or masses are present.
Depending on the size and number of polyps found, it is recommended that patients undergo a repeat colonoscopy within three to five years.
WATCH: Understanding a colonoscopy
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal cancer surgeon and Director of the Cedars-Sinai Colorectal Cancer Center, previously explained the colonoscopy procedure to SurvivorNet.
“When we see a polyp, we actually physically take the polyp out through the colonoscope,” he explained.
“What does that mean? That means we basically put a wire through with a little bit of a little flange at the end and we pull the polyp out. Now, note there is no pain with that. Inside the colon, there are no pain fibers. So there’s no pain,” Dr. Murrell added.
The advantage of a colonoscopy is that your doctor can remove any polyps found during the test. Many colon cancers can be caught on colonoscopy before they develop, or when the polyps are small enough to be removed without surgery.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
If you are facing a colon cancer diagnosis, here are some questions you may ask your doctor.
- What are my treatment options based on my diagnosis?
- If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?
- What support services are available to me? To my family?
- Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of treatment?