A not-so encouraging report has emerged, which claimed that 1 in 7 colorectal cancer patients is being diagnosed before recommended screening age of 50, reports Eurek Alert.
The study which was carried out and released by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, also revealed that younger patients were more likely to have advanced disease. The report suggests that this is in part because the patients are diagnosed only after their cancers have grown large enough to cause symptoms.
“Colorectal cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of the elderly. This study is really a wake-up call to the medical community that a relatively large number of colorectal cancers are occurring in people under 50,” says study author Samantha Hendren, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“To put this in context, breast cancer screening often begins at age 40, and less than 5 percent of invasive breast cancers occur in women under that age. Our study found that about 15 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed before the screening age of 50,” Hendren adds.
The study discovered 258,024 patients diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, a national database of cancer incidence.
Authors of the report also discovered that younger patients were more likely to receive more aggressive surgery and radiation therapy. In addition, the report also revealed that this group had higher survival rates, both overall and by stage. Further information showed that among patients whose cancer had spread to distant organs, 21 percent of younger patients survived beyond five years, as against 14 percent of older patients.
The authors however, suggest that the improved survival could be partly due to the more aggressive treatment.
The findings suggest the need for increased awareness of warning signs of colorectal cancer: anemia, a dramatic change in the size or frequency of bowel movements, and bleeding with bowel movements. They also added that more people need to put into consideration their family history of colorectal cancer that has a high risk factor.
On whether guidelines should be changed to begin screening at an earlier age, Hendren said:
“This would be a big and costly change, and I don’t know whether it would help more people than it would hurt,” she says. “A lot of research would be required to understand this before any changes should be made.”
In the meantime, the more aggressive treatment and longer survival for younger patients suggest the importance of improving long-term survivorship resources.
“The cancer community needs to prepare for the increasing number of very young colorectal cancer survivors who will need long-term support to cope with the physical and psychological consequences of their disease and treatments,” Hendren says.
Colorectal cancer has traditionally been considered by medical experts as a disease of the elderly, but the proportion of cases in younger individuals has been on the rise in recent times. This led a team of researchers led by Samantha Hendren, MD, MPH, of the University of Michigan, conducted a population-based retrospective study, which led to this discovery.