Study: Colorectal cancer mortality rates rising among younger adults, unclear why

Posted at 6:44 PM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-08 18:44:07-04

An alarming new study just came out Tuesday that shows more young people are dying from colorectal cancer - and no one knows why. 

Mortality rates had been going down for decades, but now they are going up in people under the age of 55 -- specifically white people.

Douglas Rood of Shaker Heights says he is one of the lucky ones. 

“I immediately said, 'oh my gosh, something's wrong.'”

Rood knew something was out of the ordinary and went right to the doctor, had a colonoscopy and learned the worst: he had colon cancer.

“From there it went disbelief and then you start to get angry, kind of like the grieving process, but then you start to prepare yourself for the fight that you're about to have,” he explained.

Rood is now a year and a half out and doing well. But he was just 47 years old when he got the diagnosis.

“First thing that went through my head was it's impossible,” said Rood.

“One of the things that's surprising about the study is obviously about the younger population that has this,” remarked Dr. Scott Steel, chairman of the Department of Colorectal Surgery at Cleveland Clinic. 

The study was just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other studies have found rates of colorectal cancer have been going up in white American adults under 55 since the 90's. This particular study found mortality rates are going up in white people, but actually declining among the black population.

Dr. Steele says the study doesn't answer "why," but does point to the need for discussions with your doctor.

“We'll talk about a lot of different things, but we don't talk about our bowels and our bowel habits a lot,” he noted. “Rectal bleeding, chronic abdominal pain, changes in your stool. We may not even tell our spouses those types of things.”

Rood says not ignoring the symptoms is the reason he is alive today.

“I'm the luckiest man alive because we caught it at stage 3,” he said. “Had I waited any longer, I probably would have gone to 50 and then I would have dragged my feet on getting a colonoscopy. It would have been stage 4. It would have been too late.”

Even though the study is concerning, colorectal cancer overall is still pretty rare. Dr. Steele says if you are having symptoms, in most cases it is nothing to worry about. However, it's always best to let your doctor know.