Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most common and deadly cancers in the world. It usually affects older people, but a new study has warned that younger generations are facing an increased risk of dying from this disease due to unhealthy lifestyles.
Obesity and alcohol are the main culprits
The study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, used data on cancer deaths across the EU and UK dating back to 2010 to predict the number of cancer deaths in 2024. It found that overweight, obesity, and alcohol consumption are the key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people aged 25 to 49 years.
According to the study, obesity and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes, can cause chronic inflammation and damage to the cells lining the bowel, which can lead to cancer. Alcohol can also damage the DNA of these cells and interfere with their repair mechanisms.
The study also noted that reduced physical activity is another factor that can increase the risk of bowel cancer, as it can affect the metabolism and immune system. Physical activity can also help prevent obesity and improve bowel movements, which can reduce the exposure of the bowel to harmful substances.
UK shows the highest increase in bowel cancer death rates among young people
The study predicted that the UK will have the highest increase in bowel cancer death rates among young people in 2024 compared to other European countries. The death rates are expected to rise by 26% in men and nearly 39% in women in the UK, as compared to 2018.
The researchers attributed this to the worsening lifestyle habits among younger people in the UK, such as heavier drinking and less exercise. They also pointed out that the UK has a lower screening rate for bowel cancer than other countries, which can delay the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
The study also found that bowel cancer death rates among women of all ages in the UK are not following the downward trend of many other cancers, and are expected to remain stable in 2024. This could be due to the higher prevalence of obesity among women than men in the UK, as well as the lower uptake of screening among women.
Early onset bowel cancer is more aggressive and has lower survival rates
The researchers warned that bowel cancer diagnosed at a younger age tends to be more aggressive and has lower survival rates than bowel cancer diagnosed in older people. This is because young people may have more genetic mutations in their cancer cells, which can make them more resistant to treatment. Young people may also have less symptoms or ignore them, which can delay the detection of the disease.
The researchers urged the national governments to take action to prevent the rise of bowel cancer among young people, by strengthening policies to encourage increased physical activity, a reduction in the number of people who are overweight or obese, and a reduction in alcohol consumption.
They also suggested that screening programs for bowel cancer should be extended to younger ages, starting at 45 years, as recommended by the US Preventive Service Task Force. Screening can help detect bowel cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to treat and cure.
The study was led by Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the University of Milan, Italy, and involved researchers from Switzerland, France, Spain, and the UK.