The incidence of young onset colorectal cancer (CRC) has increased significantly since the 1990s among individuals aged 20 to 49 years, according to the 2017 Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Survey Report from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance.
However, many with young-onset CRC are often not screened or are initially misdiagnosed and subsequently diagnosed with late-stage CRC.
The survey, which drew data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program, assessed 1535 young-onset CRC survivors over 1 month who received a diagnosis at less than age 50.
The survey revealed that approximately 82% of respondents were initially misdiagnosed, and 73% presented with late-stage disease. It also found that young onset CRC diagnoses have increased by 51% since 1994, despite the average age of CRC diagnosis being 68 to 72 years.
This increase has impacted patients’ ability to seek appropriate treatment for their symptoms. Many respondents reported issues regarding their symptoms being taken seriously by doctors when seeking a diagnosis, finding age-appropriate support, and sexual function during and after treatment.
Currently, CRC is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer-related death, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths per year. However, researchers estimate that, in the future, more than 1 in 10 colon cancers and nearly 1 in 4 rectal cancers will be diagnosed in individuals younger than the traditional screening age if action is not taken.
“This survey report puts a much-needed focus on the experience of young-onset colorectal cancer patients and survivors, who are experiencing subpar care due to a lack of understanding about this issue among physicians and young people alike,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO, Colorectal Cancer Alliance, in a press release (December 15, 2017). “The Alliance stands ready to make a positive impact in this area, but data is prerequisite - this report will help shape our efforts.”—Christina Vogt