A new American Cancer Society study that looked at 490,000 people over the age of twenty and diagnosed with invasive colorectal cancer between the years 1974 and 2013 has found surprisingly that someone born in 1990 has “double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer” as compared to someone born in 1950.”

This defies the commonly accepted notion that risk of colorectal cancer generally increases with age (median age 68 per the National Cancer Institute) and according to one of the study’s authors Rebecca Siegel this finding in younger people “was just very shocking” as in general, “in adults aged 55 and older, incidence rates generally declined since the mid-1980’s for colon cancer and since 1974 for rectal cancer.”

Obesity And Lack of Exercise Can Lead To Colorectal Cancer

Per dictionary.com millennials refer to people born “in the 1980’s and 1990’s especially in the US; a member of Generation Y.” Generation X refers to “the generation born between about 1966 and 1980 especially in the US.” Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1965.

Therefore, someone born for example in January of 1990 would now be 27 years old. Why is their rate of cancer in the colon and rectum increasing in these young people who are in the prime of their lives, with some often exercising regularly and even being triathletes.

The study’s authors hypothesize that possibly obesity and a sedentary lifestyle along with a high fat low fiber diet that “initiates inflammation and proliferation in the colonic mucosa within two weeks” could be causative factors in the uptick in colon cancer rates among the millennials.

According to the latest statistics from the American Cancer Society “colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States with an estimated 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 new cases of rectal cancer expected for 2017.” In addition, colorectal cancer “is expected to cause about 50,260 deaths during 2017.”

Heredity Is A Likely Factor

Historically, some risk factors for colorectal cancer include a positive family history, obesity, inactivity, smoking, a diet “high in red meat and processed meats” and “heavy” alcohol use (“more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women.”) Also, increasing risk is a history of adenomatous (pre-malignant) polyps and having type two diabetes. Certain hereditary syndromes and histories of Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis also increase risk.

Symptoms And Treatments

Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include rectal bleeding, dark or bloody stools, change in bowel habits or change in the caliber of the stool, weakness, fatigue and weight loss.

Treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies which can target specific molecules to slow tumor growth or decrease formation of new blood vessels.

Per Time magazine in an article titled “THE ME, ME, ME Generation” dated May 20, 2013, Millennials in general have been found to have an increased incidence of “a narcissistic personality” and “40% believe they should be promoted every two years regardless of performance.” Per the article, they are also generally “fame obsessed” and very self-involved.

A study in 2008 found that certain character traits were found to be prevalent among patients with colorectal cancer. They were: tendencies for compulsiveness, “control of oneself and especially of anger, self-effacement, pleasing others, self-assertion, distancing oneself from others, keeping regulations, and performing to perfection all one’s obligations.”

Quoting from Chapter 5 “Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism – Contempt Causes Insanity” in The History of New Innovations in Modern Medicine in comment on the field of psychosomatics, Mr. Siegel notes (from Self and World p.318) that “From the psychosomatic point of view it is fairly clear that if the self “hates” reality one of the components of the very basis of disease is accepted by it.”

“It follows then that to be opposed to reality or environment, to fear it, to hate it, even to be contemptuous of it is accepting a situation making for that general state called disease, illness, sickness, maladjustment, unhappiness and the like.”

“A nervous person meaning a divided person is divided not only towards his wife or child or mother-in-law or friend but also towards vegetables, salads, spices and bread.”

What is Causing the Rise In Cases

It appears that if millennials continue to evidence alarming and increasing rates of colorectal cancer with some having excellent well balanced diets and rigorous exercise programs, that all possible causes need to be examined. Could a negative attitude and emotions be having a harmful physical effect just like too much red meat consumption and lack of exercise?

The good news is that increasing awareness of this potential for colorectal cancer in millennials is leading to consideration of this diagnosis in younger patients with rectal bleeding and therefore earlier testing and treatment.

Further research on the roles of diet, exercise and the psychosomatic approach to cancer may help shed light on the startling rise in millennial colorectal cancer rates.

James D. Okun, MD