Although still rare, affecting roughly 4 percent of adults over their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is becoming increasingly common in young adults, even as the incidence among older people is declining.
For these sporadic cases, different theories have emerged for the causes, including gut microbiome changes and a sedentary lifestyle. For instance, evidence published earlier this year linked prolonged time spent sitting watching TV with an increased risk of developing the disease in young Americans. General risk factors for colorectal cancer also include smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.
Some researchers blame diet-related changes in recent decades. “We know that people in those younger groups are eating less fiber and are eating more processed foods than previous generations have,” Brenner says. These are known risk factors for colorectal cancer, as well as processed meat and red meat. In addition, obesity rates are climbing in young populations, which several studies have linked to the rise in colorectal cancer among young adults.
“Colorectal cancer is one of the most sensitive [cancers] to diet,” notes endocrinologist Marcus Goncalves.
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