Confounding researchers and clinicians alike, colorectal cancer rates are dramatically increasing among younger populations. In the latest study results published in Gastroentrology, researchers quantified the drastic shift of colorectal cancer diagnoses in various young groups aged 10–24 years.

Using information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wonder Database, the researchers evaluated colorectal cancer incidence trends from 1999–2020 in patients aged 10–44 years. During the 22-year study period, colorectal cancer diagnoses increased by 500% among patients aged 10–14, 333% among patients aged 15–19, and 185% among patients aged 20–24.

“In 2020, only 0.6 per 100,000 individuals aged 10–14 years were diagnosed with colorectal cancer compared with 0.1 per 100,000 individuals in 1999,” the researchers said. “However, from 1999–2020, colorectal cancer diagnoses increased from 0.3 to 1.3 per 100,000 patients aged 15–19 years and from 0.7 to 2.0 per 100,000 patients aged 20–24 years.”

The researchers also observed incidence increases among older age groups (i.e., 25–29, 30–34, 35–39, 40–44), although not as dramatic. However, they said that proportionally, 40- to 44-year-olds had the highest incidence rate, peaking at 21.2 per 100,000 individuals in 2020.

“The trends in colorectal cancer incidence from 1999 to 2020 reveal concerning shifts across age groups,” the researchers concluded. “These findings underscore the urgent need for targeted awareness and interventions, particularly among younger populations, where the most substantial increases in colorectal cancer incidence were observed.”

They called for further investigation into the factors driving the concerning trends and emphasized healthcare professionals’ role in educating the public about early colorectal cancer screening and prevention, especially among younger age groups. 

Learn more about the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s colorectal cancer screening recommendations and the warning signs of early-onset colorectal cancer in ONS Voice.