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Incidence of Rectal Cancer Increasing in Patients under Forty

Update from the 2009 Gastrointestinal Cancer Symposium

Incidence of rectal cancer in younger patients is increasing, although there is no similar pattern with colon cancer or in older rectal cancer patients.  The reason for the trend is unclear.

First observed in a single cancer center, the trend toward more rectal cancer in patients under forty was confirmed in review of the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database.

Dr. Joshua Meyer and other physicians at the Weill-Cornell Medical Center in New York thought that  their patients with rectal cancer were getting younger.  Looking further they found that between 1990 and 1994, two percent of rectal cancer patients at their center were under 40.  But, by 2002 through 2006, the number had risen to seven percent.  Median age when rectal cancer was diagnosed had fallen from 70 to 57.

Analyzing SEER data from 1973 through 2005, the research team found that incidence of rectal cancer in young U.S. patients increased about 2 percent a year.  At the same time colon cancers in patients under 40 was falling 0.2 percent annually.  The rectal cancer increase was happening in both men and women and across all races.

Summarizing their findings, they wrote,

This study demonstrates an increasing percentage of rectal cancer patients under age 40 in our single institution. This trend is confirmed by data from the SEER database showing an increasing incidence of rectal cancer and rectosigmoid cancer in patients under age 40. The lack of increase in incidence of cancer of the sigmoid colon, descending colon, or total colon in the same population suggests that this is a phenomenon specific to rectal and rectosigmoid cancer.

SOURCE: Meyer et al., 2009 ASCO GI Symposium, Abstract 315.

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