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New study reveals non-genetic risk factors linked to early-onset of colon cancer

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According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer has become more common in younger adults under the age of 50. While this trend is worrisome, the rates overall in younger people are still relatively low and you can prevent it or catch it early.

A new study published in the JNCI Cancer Spectrum by the University of Oxford suggests that many environmental factors – such as higher red meat intake, low educational attainment, and higher alcohol consumption – are associated with an increase in colon cancer in people under 50.

Researchers have observed such an increase mainly in people born in the 1960s from studies conducted in the US, Canada, Australia, and Japan. 

During this period huge changes have taken place in the diet of the younger generations of the developing world. 

Such changes include a reduction in the consumption of calcium-rich fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, combined with an increase in processed foods (e.g. meat, pizza, spaghetti and cheese) and soft drinks.

The increase in the early diagnosis of colon cancer worries researchers because this type of cancer often has a worse prognosis than that diagnosed in older people. 

Previous research has highlighted the potential risk factors for early-onset colorectal cancer, including increased consumption of processed meat, reduced consumption of citrus fruits and vegetables, higher body mass index, higher sedentary lifestyle, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, reduced aspirin use, and diabetes. 

However, researchers have not yet conducted a comprehensive large-scale evaluation to compare the magnitude of these risks with those for late-onset colorectal cancer and to assess whether the risks for early onset of the disease are associated with colon cancer.

Using data from 13 population studies, the researchers looked at 3,767 cases of colon cancer and 4,049 controls in people under the age of 50, and another 23,437 cases of cancer and 35,311 controls in people over the age of 50.

Early-onset of colon cancer was associated with irregular use of aspirin, higher red meat consumption, lower educational attainment, higher alcohol consumption, but also abstinence from alcohol. The researchers also found that lower total fiber intake was more closely linked to rectal cancer than to colon cancer.

Several other risk factors for colon cancer have been linked to early onset of the disease, such as history of diabetes and lower folic acid, dietary fiber and calcium intake. 

However, neither body mass index nor smoking were risk factors for the early-onset group, as opposed to late-onset colorectal cancer.

According to Richard Hayes, lead researcher on the study:

this is the first large-scale study of non-genetic risk factors for early-onset colorectal cancer that provides the initial basis for targeted identification of high-risk individuals, which is imperative for the alleviation of the increasing weight of the disease.

Image Credit: iStock

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