Rising Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer Cases a Concern for People Under 40
Colorectal cancer has become a major concern for young people in the US, a scientific study shows, with an expectation that it will become the leading cause of cancer death for those aged 20-49 by 2030. The incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer (EOCRC) has been rising since the 1990s, with an annual increase of 2% to 4%. However, the increase has been more rapid in patients under 30, with a rise of 22% since 2004.
Various environmental and health factors affecting younger demographics may be contributing to the increase in EOCRC, the National Cancer Institute reports. These include poor diets, obesity, sedentary behavior, metabolic conditions such as diabetes and insulin resistance, antibiotic use, exposure to environmental toxins, and prior surgical procedures. In addition to these factors, evidence shows that failing to get enough nutrients, such as vitamin D, can also increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The reasons behind the rise in EOCRC cases can be complex, but there are also ways to decrease that risk.
Why are early-onset colorectal cancer cases rising?
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the US and the second leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 9% of all cancer-related mortalities in 2020, according to the CDC.
Research suggests that there is a growing number of health and environmental factors contributing to the increase in EOCRC cases among younger demographics.
- Poor diets: A diet high in sugary beverages, red and processed meat has been associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
- Obesity: A sedentary lifestyle and obesity in adolescence and adulthood are associated with an increased risk of developing EOCRC.
- Metabolic conditions: Conditions like hypertension, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Antibiotic use: Increased use of antibiotics has been associated with changes in gut microbiome composition, which may play a role in the development of colorectal cancer.
- Environmental toxins: Exposure to environmental toxins has been associated with an increased risk of developing EOCRC.
- Surgical procedures: C-sections and other surgical procedures may be contributing to the increase in EOCRC.
The Connection between Vitamin D Deficiency and Colorectal Cancer
One of the factors that have contributed to the rising risk of EOCRC is vitamin D deficiency, a study in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Cancer reports. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that is essential for the absorption of calcium and maintaining bone health. Recent research shows that low levels of vitamin D are linked to an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The study found that individuals with vitamin D deficiency have a 31% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Women who had higher levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream had a significantly lower risk of developing colorectal cancer than men. Moreover, studies have shown that individuals who live in areas with less sunlight exposure are at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer due to a lack of vitamin D.
It is important to maintain optimal levels of vitamin D to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. A study in Gastroenterology found that higher total vitamin D intake is linked to a reduced risk of EOCRC.
How to Achieve and Maintain Vitamin D Sufficiency
A daily intake of 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 is necessary to achieve and sustain healthy levels of vitamin D the National Institutes of Health reports.
Along with supplements, vitamin D can be obtained through exposure to sunlight, although it is essential to ensure proper sun protection to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Many people do not get enough sunlight, especially during the winter months, and may need to rely on dietary sources or supplements to maintain sufficient levels.
Dietary sources of vitamin D include fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna), egg yolks, and fortified foods (such as milk, orange juice, and cereal). Supplements can also be a good option, but it is important to speak with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Another important factor in reducing the risk of EOCRC is maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is thought to be due, in part, to the fact that excess body fat can promote inflammation and hormonal imbalances, which can contribute to the development of cancer.
To maintain a healthy weight, the CDC recommends following a balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and to engage in regular physical activity. This can include activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, as well as strength-training exercises.
Limiting alcohol consumption
Another important step in reducing the risk of early-onset colorectal cancer is limiting alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. This may be because alcohol can damage DNA, promote inflammation, and disrupt the body’s natural defenses against cancer.
To reduce the risk of EOCRC, the CDC recommends that women consume no more than one drink per day, and men consume no more than two drinks per day. It is also important to note that binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks in one sitting) can increase the risk of cancer even further.
Avoiding tobacco use
Tobacco use is another important factor in reducing the risk of EOCRC. Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. This may be due, in part, to the fact that tobacco smoke contains several harmful chemicals that can damage DNA and disrupt the body’s natural defenses against cancer.
Quitting smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health, the CDC reports. There are many resources available to help people quit smoking, including nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, and support groups.
Screening for early detection
Finally, it is important to undergo regular screening for early detection of colorectal cancer. Screening tests can detect cancer at an early stage, when it is most treatable, or even before it develops, a study in Nature Communications reports, allowing for preventative measures to be taken.
There are several screening tests available for colorectal cancer, including colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, stool tests, and virtual colonoscopy. The type of test recommended will depend on a person’s age, risk factors, and personal preferences.
Early-onset colorectal cancer is a growing concern, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk. Maintaining adequate vitamin D levels, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, avoiding tobacco use, and undergoing regular screening tests can all help reduce the risk of cancer and improve overall health.
By taking these steps, individuals can protect themselves against this devastating disease and improve their chances of living a long and healthy life.
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