Colon cancer now leading cause of cancer death in men younger than 50

Colon cancer is now the deadliest type of cancer in men younger than 50 years old and the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the same age group, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society.

The American Cancer Society’s (ACS) annual cancer statistics report, released Wednesday, found the frequency of colorectal cancer has “rapidly shifted mortality patterns” in adults younger than 50 during the past two decades.

About 20 years ago, colon cancer was the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in both younger men and women. Now, it is the most frequent cause of cancer death for younger men and the second for younger women. Breast cancer is the top cause of cancer deaths for women younger than 50, killing an estimated 2,251 women in the age group in 2021, the report stated.

“The continuous sharp increase in colorectal cancer in younger Americans is alarming,” Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society, said in a statement.

Jemal called for increased screenings, stool tests and follow-up care for people aged 45 to 49 to curb this trend.

“Up to one-third of people diagnosed before 50 have a family history or genetic predisposition and should begin screening before age 45 years. We also need to increase investment to elucidate the underlying reasons for the rising incidence to uncover additional preventive measures,” he said.

Among people of all age and gender groups, lung cancer is the most deadly cancer type. An estimated 340 people die each day from lung cancer, about 2 1/2 times more than the number who die from colon cancer, researchers noted.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men of all ages, while breast cancer is the second for women of all ages.

In addition to increases in breast and prostate cancers, rates are also increasing for four more of the most common cancers: melanoma, kidney, pancreatic and uterine.

Increased cancer diagnoses are also shifting from older to middle-aged individuals, who have more years of life expectancy and “opportunity [to] experience the late effects of treatment,” the report said.

Overall cancer mortality is continuing to decline, however, with over four million fewer cancer deaths since 1991, per the report.

This is equal to a 33 percent drop in cancer deaths overall since 1991, with researchers pointing to reductions in smoking, earlier cancer detection and improved treatment options as the reasons for the decline.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States overall and the leading cause among those younger than 85, researchers stated. An estimated 611,720 people will die from the disease in 2024.

Researchers found disparities in cancer outcomes among racial groups. Mortality rates are twofold higher for prostate, stomach and uterine corpus cancers in Black individuals and for liver, stomach and kidney cancers in Native American people, when compared to those for White people.

Lisa A. Lacasse, president of ACS’s advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the report highlights the need for greater “public policy interventions”

“We urge lawmakers at all levels of government to advance policies that ensure more people have health insurance coverage as well as improved access to and affordability of care, such as increased funding for cancer research and screening programs. Doing so will bring us closer to our vision of ending cancer as we know it, for everyone,” Lacasse said in a statement.

The report used the most recent data on cancer cases through 2020 from cancer registries and mortality data through 2021 from the National Center Health Statistics.

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