Colorectal cancer (CRC) is rising with two million new cases globally. It is the third most common form of cancer and is the fourth leading cause of cancer.

The risk of developing colorectal cancer begins at the age of 40 and progressively increases until it spikes at the age of 50. Recent rates have shown that millennials, who are currently between the ages of 18 and 36, are currently at greater risk of developing CRC.

Millennials are defined as the individuals born after 1980. They include both the children of the baby boomers and some of the older Generation Xers. Millennials are also known to be greatly exposed to technological innovations, digital media and communications. Psychologist Jean Twenge wrote a book entitled “Generation Me” and described these individuals as confident, tolerant, narcissistic and having a strong sense of entitlement.

Epidemiology of CRC in millennials

A government registry for cancer diagnosis called Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Programme came up with data from 1974 to 2013. They looked at cases of colon and rectal cancer and examined around 500,000 individuals. In comparing colon and rectal cancer cases, the results of rectal cancer were more striking.

In colon cancer, the rates observed during the first decade of people aged 50 and up had an increased rate of colon cancer as compared to 50 and below. This data supports the common notion on the prevalence of colon cancer. Although it was noted that during the mid-1980s to 2013 the rate for ages below 50 had increased, they found that from the ages 20 to 29, colon cancer rate went up by 2.4% annually as ages 30 to 39 went up by one percent annually.

Rectal cancer, on the other hand, showed an incline in the rate for ages 20 to 29 at 3.2% annually with the same rate for adults in their 30s.

Factors related to increased risk in millennials

Due to advancements in technology, we are able to diagnose diseases in the earlier stages which could partially contribute to the increased rates in the younger age group. Early detection has increased the incidence of many diseases which should bring no surprise to the rise in cancer cases.

Though early diagnosis will lead to earlier detection of colorectal cancer, there are other factors that may contribute to the rising trend of the disease. For example, millennials who are overweight or obese due to their low physical activity are at greater risk of contracting colorectal cancer; consuming more red meat and not eating enough fibre, as well as consuming fast food or processed food, will also increase their chances of contracting the disease. Additionally, it should be noted that this group of individuals tend to consume more alcohol and smoke cigarettes.

The above mentioned are modifiable risk factors of which medical practitioners could do some intervention. The public needs to be educated on what leads to cancer and how to prevent its development. Educational campaigns are being developed and are aiming towards just that. It is alarming to see younger age groups at risk of contracting cancer, but fortunately, lifestyle is a factor that can be changed. MIMS

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