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January 2019

Colorectal Cancer Before Age 50: A Weighty Reason Rates Are Rising

First, the good news: Rates of colorectal cancer are down among older adults. Now, the bummer news: The incidence of colorectal cancer is on the rise among those younger than age 50. One likely culprit, according to a study published in JAMA Oncology, is America’s weight problem.

Man and women outdoors, walking for exercise

Tipping the scale toward cancer

For the study, researchers surveyed more than 85,000 women ages 25 to 42 every two years. The median follow-up duration was about 14 years. During the ongoing study, researchers found that overweight and obese women were more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 50 compared with women whose weight was within a healthy range. Those who had gained 44 to 88 pounds since age 18 had a 65% higher risk, and those who had packed on 88-plus pounds had more than double the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared with women who had lost weight or gained less than 11 pounds. 

How a wider waistline may contribute to the risk for colorectal cancer isn’t entirely known. One theory? Excess body weight is associated with other factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet, and diabetes, which have also been shown to raise the risk for colorectal cancer before age 50.

Should you get screened?

The American Cancer Society recommends people at average risk start regular colorectal cancer screenings at age 45. If you’re overweight or obese, or have other risk factors for colorectal cancer, talk with your health care provider about whether getting screened sooner might be right for you.

Maintaining a healthy weight won’t just help keep colorectal cancer at bay. It can also safeguard against heart disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis. For tips on how to drop unwanted pounds, visit the CDC.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/21/2018
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