Colon cancer on the rise among young Americans, early detection is key

Early-stage cancerous tissue can be removed without undergoing surgery.
Ameya Paleja
Illustration depicting a polyp in colorectal cancer
Illustration depicting a polyp in colorectal cancer 

Colon cancer is on the rise in the U.S. and is the second most common cause of cancer death, as per data published by the American Cancer Society (ACS). As per its estimates, approximately 153,020 individuals will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC) in 2023, and over 52,000 will die from the disease in the U.S. alone.

CRC is a condition where the cells of the colon or large intestine grow abnormally. The disease often begins as a non-cancerous polyp - a small clump of cells lining the colon which is often harmless. Polyps can stay in the colon for years before they become cancerous and begin.

The rise of colon cancer in the U.S.

The ACS updates the statistics of CRC in the U.S. every three years. Its most recent update was published at the beginning of this month and contains disease incidence data from population-based cancer registries and mortality data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

According to the report, CRC incidence had reduced from three to four percent in the 2000s to one percent in the last decade. However, the proportion of cases among those lesser than 55 years of age has nearly doubled from 11 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2019.

The data also showed that 60 percent of all cases detected in 2019 were in the advanced stage, which is much higher than the 52 percent of cases reported in the mid-2000s and 57 percent in 1995 when screening was not widespread.

Colon cancer on the rise among young Americans, early detection is key
March is Colon Cancer Awareness month

These numbers have called for greater screening efforts to enable earlier detection of CRC, especially since newer technology is now available for the removal of early-stage cancers.

Conventionally, CRC treatments have involved removing part of the colon that is affected through surgery. This requires a long stay in the hospital and months of recovery time. With newer technology, patients now have access to minimally invasive treatments that do not require the long stay and recovery periods associated with surgery.

The technique called submucosal dissection is essentially similar to undergoing a colonoscopy for the detection of polyps. Additionally, it also removes the polyps that are at risk of developing into cancer.

To benefit from this new treatment option, though, cancer needs to be detected at a very early stage. Therefore, the U.S. Preventive Task Force says that Americans must start getting colonoscopies by the age of 45.

Additionally, further research needs to be done to determine the cause of rising CRC cases and why certain populations, like Native Americans, are showing a high incidence of the disease.

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