Did you know that that colorectal cancer is the second most deadly cancer in the United States? March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and there are some new statistics on these cancers that might surprise you.
Like most cancers, your risk of colon cancer increases as you age, but new research just released by the American Cancer Society indicates an alarming incidence of these cancers among Generation X and Millennials.
According to a study of nearly 500,000 cases recorded from 1974 to 2013 and reported last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, colon and rectal cancers have increased dramatically among young and middle-age adults in the United States over the past 40 years. Baby boomers tend to be diagnosed with these cancers in their 70s and colorectal cancer rates have actually fallen among older adults 55 and over, but surprisingly, the risk is now rising quickly among young adults.
A person born in 1990 actually has double the risk of early colon cancer and quadruple the risk of early rectal cancer as someone born in 1950, lead researcher Rebecca Siegel reported. It is likely that Millennials and Generation X adults “will carry that risk forward” as they age, she said.
Most of the nation’s 135,000 annual cases and 50,000 deaths related to colon and rectal cancer still occur among people over age 55, but cases involving younger adults have risen to 29% for rectal cancer and 17% for colon cancer, the study showed. In 2013 alone, about 15,000 young adults in their 30s and 40s were diagnosed with these cancers.
This trend has become evident in cancer clinics, not only in the United States, but also around the world.
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
No one is quite sure why this is the case, but it may have to do with the fact that obesity rates have been rising steadily. Obesity is a known risk factor for colon and rectal cancer, as well as the related co-factors of inactivity and high fat diets. Diets high in red and processed meat and low in fiber are also risk factors, as well as alcohol and
smoking. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop the disease.”There are likely complex interactions going on between physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and excess body weight,” Siegel said.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
The American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that consuming a healthful diet and engaging in regular physical activity could prevent 50% of colorectal cancer cases annually. There are at least ten steps you can take to help prevent colorectal cancer:
- Don’t smoke – Smokers are 18-30% more likely than non-smokers to get the disease. In a study of more than 180,000 people, long-term cigarette smoking was found to be associated with colorectal cancer, even after controlling for screening and multiple other risk factors.
- Avoid processed meat –Salted, cured or preserved meats such as bacon, hot dogs, and sausages have been classified as “definite carcinogens” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and each 4 oz portion increases risk of colorectal cancer by about 35%.
- Get regular exercise — A 2009 meta-analysis of 52 epidemiologic studies that examined the association between physical activity and colon cancer risk found that the most physically active individuals had a 24% lower risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active .
- Avoid alcohol – A meta-analysis of 57 studies on alcohol consumption showed that people who regularly consume 3.5 drinks per day have a 150% greater risk of colorectal cancer than occasional drinkers. Other studies have shown that 2-3 drinks a day increase risk by 21%.
- Control your weight and reduce belly fat – Reduce or eliminate consumption of fried, high-fat and high-calorie foods like sweets, meats, and cheese; and exercise to burn excess calories.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet – Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, flax and other sources of fiber; and avoid processed carbohydrates like refined sugar, flour, and soda. While
you’re at it, avoid GMOs and microwaved foods as well.
- Consume plenty of garlic —Evidence suggests that regularly including 2-3 cloves of garlic in your diet reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, especially if you chop the garlic first and then wait 10-15 minutes before cooking in order to activate its health-promoting ingredients.
- Increase your vitamin D –Vitamin D3 has been estimated to lower the incidence of colorectal cancer by 50%, either by nutritional supplementation or through sunlight exposure. According to a meta-analysis of five previous studies examining vitamin D and colorectal cancer risk over 25 years, you should have a minimal blood level of 34 ng/ml. 10 minutes of daily unprotected sunlight exposure as well as a diet that includes wild salmon, sardines, and mackerel are all excellent sources of vitamin D.
- Cleanse your colon – Aim for three large bowel movements daily, and periodically supplement with herbal colon products, enemas, or professional colonic irrigations.
- Get screened – Screenings like colonoscopy, hemoccult stool testing, and Cologuard tests can be very valuable because they can catch polyps before they turn into cancer. Right now, screening is recommended for adults over age 50 and for younger adults with certain genetic syndromes, gastrointestinal disorders or family histories.
 American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer risk factors, 2017 https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html
 Hannan L, Jacobs E, and Thun M. The association between cigarette smoking and risk of colorectal cancer in a large prospective cohort from the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev Dec 2009;18(12):3362–7
 Klampfer L. Vitamin D and colon cancer. World J Gastrointest Oncol. 2014 Nov 15; 6(11): 430–437 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4229786/
 Painter K. Colon and rectal cancers surge among millennials and Gen X. USA Today, Feb. 28, 2017