Obesity, Alcohol Causing Rising Bowel Cancer Deaths in Young People

While colorectal cancer death rates are generally decreasing across Europe, obesity and alcohol use are contributing to rising deaths in young adults, new research shows.

An annual study that predicts cancer deaths in the European Union and the United Kingdom is forecasting increases in bowel cancer deaths among those aged 25-49 in Italy and the UK, as well as Poland and Spain for men and Germany for women — reflecting a worrisome trend of rising colorectal cancer rates and deaths in young people that have also been observed in North America.

The study, published in Annals of Oncology Monday, predicts an overall cancer mortality rate decline of 6.5% among men and 4.3% among women between 2018 and 2024 in the EU and UK.


While the study covers all cancers, the authors said they focused on colorectal cancer “due to its high incidence and mortality, and its recent unfavorable patterns among young adults in the United States and other selected high-income countries.”

The researchers predict that colorectal cancer death rates in young people in the UK will rise by 26% in men and nearly 39% in women compared to 2018. Increases are also predicted for Italy (1.5% in men and 2.6% in women), among Spanish and Polish men (5.5% and 5.9%, respectively), and among German women (7.2%).

“Key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people include overweight, obesity and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes,” said lead study author Carlo La Vecchia, M.D., a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at the University of Milan, in a news release. “Additional reasons are increases in heavier alcohol drinking over time in central and northern Europe and the UK, and reductions in physical activity.”

Early onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive, according to La Vecchia, with lower survival rates than bowel cancer diagnosed in older people.

The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recently recommended lowering the bowel cancer screening age to 45, and La Vecchia recommends that governments in the UK and EU do the same. He said governments should also consider implementing policies to encourage physical activity and discourage alcohol consumption.

The researchers also predict some increases in mortality from lung cancer in females and from pancreatic cancer in both sexes. Breast cancer death rates continue to improve in Europe and the UK.


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