Unknown cause for rectal cancer increase

    Cancer doctors are scratching their heads over findings published today, showing rectal cancer rates among people under age 40 doubled over the last 25 years.

    The rates of rectal cancer among people under age 40 doubled since 1984. Those are the findings of a new study published today.

    Doctor Joshua Meyer and his colleagues in New York had noticed in their clinic that more and more young people were being diagnosed with rectal cancer. They weren’t sure if it was a trend, so they mined national data going back several decades, and found a steady increase over time. They found that cases rose among men, women, and people of every race.

    Meyer: There really isn’t a good explanation that we have, unfortunately, for why this is going up, but we think that this is a real finding and we’re interested in continuing to look at this.

    Meyer, who’s now at Fox Chase Cancer Center, says the cancer is still quite rare, and his findings don’t warrant a change in recommendations for regular screening.

    David Loren is the Associate Director of Medical Endoscopy at Thomas Jefferson University, and he was not involved in the study. He says he’s interested in finding out what’s behind the mysterious trend.

    Loren: If there are modifiable risk factors that we can use to alter this process and thereby decrease the likelihood of developing colon cancer or rectal cancer in young patients, that’s something we need to know.

    John Marks, the Chief of Colorectal Surgery for Lankenau Hospital, says the study is a good reminder to physicians not to shrug off rectal bleeding in younger people.

    Marks: There’s no question that this study highlights the need for patients to be evaluated at earlier ages should they have symptoms.

    The study is published is the journal Cancer.

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