Neither young adults nor their health care providers are actively looking for signs of the disease.
“Considering the long lead-up time for how long it takes a colon polyp to become a cancer,” she says, “If we start screening people at 50, we are missing a group of patients that might actually be able to prevent colorectal cancer.”
The exact cause of rising colon cancer rates in younger adults isn’t known. Some health experts point to obesity rates and high alcohol consumption as possible causes, but both of these explanations are “simplistic and inadequate,” in the words of one recent academic paper on the subject. That paper’s authors—and many others in the field—hypothesize that clues might lie in the microbiota of the ill person’s colon, but there is still a lot of research to be done, says George Chang, a professor of surgical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Factors like lower rates of healthcare access and other racist inequities built into our healthcare system are part of that picture. “Much of the disparity can be explained by [the cancer’s stage at diagnosis], but a lot of it cannot,” says Chang. “It’s clearly multi-factorial.”