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Why Is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly Among Young Adults?

In this review of a recent online event hosted by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), Barbara Cohn, Ph.D., M.P.H. of PHI's Child Health and Development Studies describes the potential for environmental chemicals to disrupt the body's metabolism and lead to obesity, a possible risk factor for colorectal cancer.

  • WorldHealth.Net

According to the National Cancer Institute, since the 1990s the rate of colorectal cancer (which includes cancers of the colon and rectum) has more than doubled among adults younger than 50. Not only that, but more younger people are dying from the disease.

This rapid increase is especially puzzling because the rate of colorectal cancer has plummeted among older adults—largely due to regular colonoscopies and lower rates of smoking.

“We don’t understand a lot about the causes, the biology, or how to prevent early onset of the disease,” said Phil Daschner, a program director in NCI’s Division of Cancer Biology. “And that’s important to learn more about because it may affect [approaches for] the treatment and survivorship of early-onset colon cancer.”

In September, more than 400 leading scientists from academia, industry, and government, along with patient advocates, gathered online to exchange ideas and information about colorectal cancer in younger adults. The goal of the think tank, organized by NCI and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), was to identify research priorities that address important questions about the disease.

Although the participants discussed several different aspects of early-onset colorectal cancer—including prevention, treatment, and survivorship—identifying risk factors and causes for colorectal cancer in younger adults emerged as the top priority.

Chemicals in the Environment

Scientists are examining factors in the environment as potential causes of early-onset colorectal cancer. Such factors include things like air and water pollution, chemicals in soil and food, and pesticide use.

The National Toxicology Program, led by NIEHS, has identified 18 chemicals that cause cancer in the intestines of mice or rats, said NIEHS Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D., who also heads the National Toxicology Program. Some of these chemicals might damage DNA, potentially leading to harmful mutations in cells of the colon and rectum.

Other chemicals may have more indirect effects, pointed out Barbara Cohn, Ph.D., M.P.H. of the Public Health Institute. For example, mixtures of certain environmental chemicals (sometimes called endocrine disrupters and obesogens) can disrupt the body’s metabolism, leading to obesity, she said. Even though some of those chemicals are now banned, their use in earlier decades could have effects later in life for people who were born back then, Dr. Cohn explained. 

In addition, some environmental chemicals may have harmful effects on the complex assortment of bacteria in the gut, Dr. Woychik noted.

People are exposed to many chemicals at the same time, some of which may interact in different ways, he added. So, it’s important to consider all of an individual’s environmental exposures over the course of their life, including exposures in the womb, said Dr. Woychik. How those chemicals interact with a person’s genetic and epigenetic characteristics is also important, he added.

Click below to read the full article in WorldHealth.Net.

Originally published by WorldHealth.Net


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