Attempts to curb the rise in colorectal cancer could benefit greatly if researchers were able to determine the body’s reaction to doses of sugar.
“If you view cancer in a petri dish and introduce sugar, it grows fast. And [sugar and high-fructose corn syrup] are in almost all sodas,” Dr. Heather Yeo, colorectal surgeon at Weill Cornell in New York and a SurvivorNet Medical Advisor, says.Read More
Individuals who drank more than two sodas per day in their teenage years were at a greater risk of developing colon cancer, according to a new study. Researchers found that the risk of developing colorectal cancer before the age of 50 increased by 32% with each additional soft drink or beverage consumed by participants when they were between the age of 13 and 18.
Rise in Colorectal Cancer Rates and Sugar
Multiple studies have been done in just the past few years about the impact sugar – fructose in particular – has on cancer cells as they spread throughout the body.
A study released in Gut found that individuals who consumed two sugar-sweetened drinks per day when they were between the ages of 13 and 18 were twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer compared to a person who drank less than one serving.
Colorectal cancer rates have been increasing in adults under 50 for the past 75 years, and show no signs of slowing down. UChicago Medicine released a report in March that determined there has been a 51% increase of colorectal cancer in adults under 50 since 1994, despite the fact that cases have been largely been declining for those over 50 during the same time period. An individual is now twice as likely to have colon cancer and four times as likely to have rectal cancer as someone of the same age in 1950, according to this most recent study.
Rise in Colorectal Cancer Rates and Obesity
Dr. Yeo believes that this surge is in no small part because of the growing obesity rates in this country.
“I think that the average American diet is really high in sugar. And, I mean if you think about it, even like the ‘healthy things’ we drink, like Gatorade after a run. I still do that, but that’s a huge bolus of sugar,” Dr. Yeo says.
“Really understanding the intensity of the impact is the more complicated thing.”
For this study, researchers looked at a group of 95,464 women over the course of 25 years (1991-2015) and examined the amount of sugar-sweetened beverages they consumed daily.
This study was somewhat limited in that it only examined a group of females. Colorectal cancer cases are still rare among young women, and there were only 109 cases among the close to 50,000 women in the study.
The women were also between the ages of 21 and 42 when the study began, meaning the data linking the increase in cancer rates to average consumption in participants’ teen years was drawn from recollection and not recorded in real-time.
Colorectal Cancer and Diet
Dr. Yeo says there could be more public awareness about colorectal health, but at the same time acknowledges that we all know what foods are good for our body and what foods are not as good. By way of example, she points out fiber consumption and notes that the more fiber a person consumes the less likely that person’s chances are of developing colorectal cancer.
“If you’re eating more fiber that stuff moves through your colon in a faster way usually and so the chemicals and toxins may have less time to set there,” explains Dr. Yeo.
“That fiber may also help with the production of healthy gut bacteria and its beneficial properties.”
Dr. Yeo is careful to point out, however, the problem with studies that isolate a specific food or something like fiber intake and then relate it to cancer.
“It is complicated because people that have healthy lifestyles have healthier behaviors overall,” notes Dr. Yeo. “So it is very hard to quantify these things exactly.”
Dr. Yeo is careful about her own sugar intake she says, and does not drink soda. She does however still use soda from time to time at work.
“In surgery, when someone’s tube is clogged we will often instill it with soda because that will actually melt away some of the stuff that’s in there,” reveals Dr. Yeo.
Colorectal Cancer Screening
The USPSTF previously recommended screening begins at age 50. However, there’s been a rising number of colorectal cases among younger people which spurred the task force to consider lowering the recommended screening age. This may lead to more diagnoses being caught early and lead to more successful treatments.
“These guidelines now match up with recommendations from the American Cancer Society from a few years ago,” Dr. Heather Yeo, a colorectal surgeon at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet. “We know that colon cancers can be prevented with screening and the rising incidence in young adults has been concerning. This younger age group is the only age group that has been increasing over the past decade.”
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Despite strong evidence that screening for colorectal cancer is effective, about a quarter of people ages 50 to 75 have never been screened, according to the USPSTF.
By lowering this recommended age, experts hope that this will encourage more people (no matter how old) to be vigilant about signs of colorectal cancer and get screened if they sense something might be wrong. It’s well known that the earlier a cancer is detected, the better outcomes when it comes to treatment.
“The fact that we have now reduced the screening age to 45 is a huge step,” Michael Sapienza, CEO of Colorectal Cancer Alliance, tells SurvivorNet. “It will allow us to potentially screen 15 million more eligible Americans a year and will certainly save lives. I also think what it’ll do is bring much-needed attention that even if you’re younger than 45 you should be paying more attention. I think that’s also a really important message.”
Colorectal Cancer Facts
Symptoms of colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, include:
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
- A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make it look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Losing weight without trying
Since all of these issues can also be common symptoms for other illnesses, and sometimes aren’t always a cause for concern, it is generally best to see a doctor to be on the safe side.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Yeo discussed the top three myths associated with colon cancer and getting screened.
Myth #1: Colonoscopies are the only way to detect colon cancer.
The verdict: Not true. Though colonoscopies are the best way, there are a lot of other methods — like fecal occult blood tests (which look at a sample of your stool) and fecal immunochemical tests (FIT). “The [tests] have different roles and you should talk to a medical provider about what’s best for you, but there are a lot of options,” Dr. Yeo says.
Myth #2: Only people with a family history can get colon cancer.
The verdict: Not true. “In fact, the majority of people who get colon cancer have no family history,” Dr. Yeo says. “The reason I do the specialty is that if we screen patients early, cancers can be prevented. We can have really good survival outcomes and so I tell that to a lot of my patients. It’s important to have a positive outlook for that.”
Myth #3: Only people with symptoms need to screen.
The verdict: Absolutely not true. “The guidelines have recently changed because colon cancer has increased in people under the age of 50 … The American Cancer Society has recently recommended that we start screening at the age of 45,” Dr. Yeo says. And that means everybody.
Unlike other types of cancers such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer isn’t as well-known to many Americans. That’s why raising awareness about symptoms and screenings is imperative for the future and could save lives
“We need to get the word out more,” Sapienza says. “I just saw a plane the other day which had the breast cancer logo all over the side of it. When was the last time you saw a colon cancer logo? People don’t even know what that is. So how do we get more people talking about it? I think that will help drive the funnel of awareness and screening.”