Colorectal cancer has moved up from being the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men and women under 50 years of age to first in men and second in women in less than two decades, according to The American Cancer Society of New Jersey.

The Statistics

An estimated 4,240 new colorectal cancer cases are estimated in New Jersey in 2024 for both men and women, according to ACS.

In 2023, an estimated 4,220 new colorectal cancer cases in New Jersey were detected, as well as 1,360 deaths in the state.

While these numbers seem high, they are actually improvements from what ACS has seen over time in certain populations, said ACS spokeswoman and medical oncologist, Dr. Kristen Spencer.

For example, from 2011 to 2019, rates of new colorectal cancer diagnoses decreased by about 1% per year overall predominantly in patients 65 years and older.

But Spencer said what is alarming is that rates have increased by 1% to 2% per year since around the mid-1990s for patients who are younger than 55 years old, according to ACS’s annual Cancer Facts & Figures report.

“The death rate has actually declined by about 1.8% per year in both men and women over the age of 55. However, in patients younger than 55, we’ve seen about a 1% per year increase since the mid-2000s that’s been pretty consistent. So, while it’s paralleling those incidents, we’re also seeing increased death rates in those younger patients,” Spencer said.

Doctor and Patient (wavebreakmedia, ThinkStock)
Doctor and Patient (wavebreakmedia, ThinkStock)

Getting Screened

It used to be people who were at average risk for colorectal cancer should get screened beginning at age 50. But now with these new statistics showing more younger people are being diagnosed with the disease, and dying at younger ages, that recommendation age has changed.

Now, The American Cancer Society recommends that patients who are at average risk for colorectal cancer should start screening at age 45. Colonoscopy screenings should continue through age 75. Afterward, patients should talk to their doctors for more individualized decision-making up to age 85, Spencer said.

“However, it becomes a little bit grayer for people that are at increased risk because of say, family history or some other high-risk feature. Those patients should talk to their doctor about starting screening even earlier than age 45,” she added.

Woman with stomach issues
Zoonar RF, ThinkStock

Signs and Symptoms

Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. The most common signs and symptoms are rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea), changes in stool shape (narrower than usual), the feeling that the bowel is not completely empty, abdominal cramping or pain, and as the disease progresses, patients may notice decreased appetite, weight loss, and unexplained fevers.

Treatment and Prevention

Spencer said one way to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer is to make some simple, but key lifestyle choices.

But getting a colonoscopy is key. If polyps or pre-cancerous growths are detected through this procedure, they can be removed, thus reducing the cancer risk.

She said doctors have been seeing an increase in colonoscopy screenings in patients between the ages of 45 and 49.

men's health blue ribbon

Key Takeaways

There were two takeaways from results of the ACS annual Cancer Facts & Figures report.
Cancer is now the second most common cause of death in the United States. That’s outstripped only by heart disease, Spencer said. “Particularly in colorectal cancer, we’re seeing increased incidences and mortality in our younger patients, less than 55 and even less than 45 years of age,” Spencer said.

Patients are recommended to adhere to any kind of risk reduction strategy through their lifestyle choices, balanced diet, regular exercise, moderate alcohol intake, and avoiding smoking if possible, as well as adhering to recommended screenings and discussions with their doctors about what that may look like.

“We can detect this early and we can save lives by doing that,” Spencer said.

To learn more about getting screened, visit here.

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