Colorectal cancer — which has long been seen as a disease of old age — is striking more and more young people. In fact, 30 percent of all colorectal cancer (CRC) diagnoses are now in people younger than 55. Gen Xers (born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s) are seeing a particularly high increase, as are millennials (born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s).
Scientists and researchers are scratching their heads about why CRC is increasing so drastically. Why do people born in 1990 have 3x the colon cancer risk and 4x the rectal cancer risk of people born in 1950? And, more importantly, how can we reverse this trend?
I have some ideas of my own, but before I get into those, let me tell you about a study the American Cancer Society just published about the problem.
The study looked at historical trends in CRC risk. For the first half of the 20th century, the researchers discovered, CRC risk steadily declined. People born in the middle of the century — 1950 — have the lowest risk of developing this devastating cancer. But after that date, risk started increasing.
And now we’re seeing about 14,000 cases of CRC each year in people born after the mid-1960s.
So we’re left asking: What happened in 1950 to change course?
Well for one thing, the obesity epidemic got its start right around then. But since the increase in CRC started right at the same time as the rise in obesity rates and not years later as we’d expect, we know other factors must be at play too.
Let’s not forget that the 1950s brought the advent of artificial foods grown with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and the like. Remember the pictures of the kids running behind the truck spraying DDT? Chemicals like DDT came on strong after World War II, and they still permeate our soil. They don’t go away quickly.
Millennials have spent their entire lives surrounded by these chemicals, and I would bet that plays a role in the rise in CRC in that population. They have never known a world without chemical toxins in their food, water, and air.
No doubt the reasons for the rise in CRC are numerous, but I am certain they’re tied to what we are doing to our food supply. The changes in our lifestyle, including the fact that we now spend the majority of our waking hours sitting instead of moving around, surely play a role as well.
To truly reverse the trend toward increased CRC risk, we need to make overarching changes. We need to get big agribusiness to change their ways. We need to get toxins out of our food, water, and air.
But those are changes that take time — and good choices on the part of big business, which isn’t exactly something they’re known for.
So what changes can you make at an individual level to protect yourself? First and foremost, get screened.
The authors of the American Cancer Society study are calling for screening to start at age 50 for people with average risk and age 40 for anyone with a family history of the disease. That’s something I’ve been advocating for years — partially due to my own family history, and partially because in light of the rising risk, it just makes sense to expand screening.
Because the fact is, when you catch CRC early, you have a much better chance of treating it successfully.
Of course, even if you can’t make global environmental and food-policy changes overnight, you are in control of how you choose to live in this world. Change up your diet (the A-List Diet is a great guide to healthy, nutritious eating, so make sure to order a copy today by clicking here.) Get up and move more. Manage your stress level.
And no matter how unpleasant it sounds, don’t put off that colonoscopy.