Although still relatively uncommon in young people, the incidence of rectal cancer appears to be increasing in this population. These results were published in the journal Cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The colon is the first 4 to 5 feet of the large intestine, and the rectum is the last several inches.
Rectal cancer tends to be most common in older people, but can affect younger people as well. In order to assess trends in rectal cancer among people under the age of 40, researchers analyzed information from a large U.S. cancer database: the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.
Information was collected about 7,661 patients who had been diagnosed with colon, rectal, or rectosigmoid cancer between 1973 and 2005 and before the age of 40.
- Rates of rectal cancer increased 2.6% per year. In contrast, rates of colon cancer did not change significantly during this time period.
- In spite of the increase in rectal cancer, colon cancer remained the more common type of cancer. Incidence of colon cancer during the study period was 1.11 per 100,000 and incidence of rectal cancer was 0.42 per 100,000.
- The increase in rectal cancer appeared to start around 1984. The increase was observed among all races, and among both men and women.
The reasons for this increase remain uncertain. The researchers conclude, “In the current study, we demonstrated that young patients are developing rectal and rectosigmoid cancer an increasing rate. Although these rates are not high enough to warrant a change in current screening guidelines, we suggest strong consideration of the endoscopic evaluation of young patients presenting with rectal bleeding or other common signs or symptoms of rectal or rectosigmoid cancer.”
 National Cancer Institute. What You Need to Know About™ Cancer of the Colon and Rectum. Accessed August 24, 2010.
 Meyer JE, Narang T, Schnoll-Sussman FH, Pochapin MB, Christos PJ, Sherr DL. Increasing incidence of rectal cancer in patients aged younger than 40 years. Cancer. Early online publication August 23, 2010.
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