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Colorectal cancer rates and deaths soaring in the US, especially among young adults

Deaths from colorectal cancers are set to soar by 60 percent around the world in the coming decades, a first-of-its-kind report reveals. 

Rectal cancer deaths in particular are now predicted to rise precipitously in the US, Canada, Ireland, Costa Rica and Australia, according to the new International Agency for Research on Cancer study. 

In 2018 alone, there were 1.8 million new cases of colorectal cancer around the world and it cost 881,000 people their lives.    

And as long as the long as the obesity epidemic continues to plague places like the US, the upward trend in colorectal cancers – especially among younger people – is likely continue through 2013, the new study suggests. 

Graphs from the new study show the changes in colorectal cancer death rates that have already happened in solid lines and the projected shifts in dotted ones. Much of Latin America (left) is set to soar, whereas in North America the predicted uptick is slighter (right)  

For 42 countries, deaths from colon cancers are set to increase by 60 percent between now and 2035. 

Deaths from rectal cancers will increase even more steeply, but an estimated 71.5 percent in the coming decade, according to the new report.  

Grouped together colorectal cancers are the third most common forms of cancer worldwide. 

This is partly driven by the aging population, but the pair of cancers are no longer just relegated to old age. 

Experts widely believe this change is driven by rising rates of obesity and the Western diet’s high content of processed and fatty foods. 

In the US, movements to bring these cancers more to the public consciousness and encourage screening at younger ages have helped to boost the survival rates, but colorectal cancer remains a major public health concern.   

In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the age when it recommend people start getting screened for colorectal cancers from age 50 to 45 as rates. 

Rates of cancers on the whole have been in a steady decline for decades, but that encouraging trend has slowed down for colorectal cancers worldwide. 

And meanwhile, death rates of the diseases are expected to rise in the US, Canada, Ireland and Australia. 


The Western diet is loosely defined as one full of fatty and sugary foods, such as burgers, fries and soda.  

People often eat foods that are high in

  • Saturated fats
  • Red meats
  • ‘Empty’ carbohydrates
  • Junk Food

And low in

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Seafood 
  • Poultry 

Health effects have been linked to things such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, colorectal cancer and dementia. 

Most worryingly, more and more people in their 20s and 30s have been getting diagnosed with colorectal cancers. 

And they’ve been getting diagnosed late – and they have been dying early. 

For the most part, scientists are grasping at straws to figure out why. 

But their prime suspect is obesity. 

Obesity comes with overall inflammation of the body and that inflammation can tamper with cells, encouraging then to become cancerous. 

And rates of obesity have doubled in more than a third of the world’s countries in the last 38 years. 

Even if a person does not have a BMI over 30 – the ratio categorized as obese – eating a poor diet raises levels of a damaging protein associated with increased risks of a number of diseases, including cancer. 

And the Western diet of fatty red meats, empty carbohydrates, processed foods and sugars – which is essentially a menu designed for inflammation.  

The Nurses’ Health Study followed a group of women between 25 and 42 during the period from 1989 to 2011, monitoring their vitals and any diseases they developed. 

Of the 85,000 women enrolled in the group, 114 developed colorectal cancer, and that subset tended to have higher BMIs than those who did not develop the disease. 

Even more dramatic rises in rectal cancer deaths are expected in Latin America and the Caribbean (left) and North America (right) 

Even more dramatic rises in rectal cancer deaths are expected in Latin America and the Caribbean (left) and North America (right) 

Worldwide, the new report estimates that colon cancer deaths will jump from 158,816 in 2013 to 254,156 in 2035. 

Similarly, deaths from rectal cancer will jump up from 72,649 in 2013 to 124,614 globally. 

And among people younger than 55 in the US, people who are born in the US in 1990 are at twice the risk of rectal cancer and four times the risk of colon cancer as someone born in 1950. 

Similar patterns were seen in Australia, though the study did not attempt to predict future rate changes in either country.  

Rates of diagnoses will continue to vary from country to country, and the study authors believe that economic and technological improvements may actually predict higher rates of there cancers. 

‘Driven by societal and economic gains, many countries have undergone a significant nutritional transition and the overweight and obesity rates have increased markedly, possibly due to increased consumption of energy-dense foods and decreasing physical activity,’ they wrote. 

Obesity disproportionately plagues Latin America, where over half of the population is predicted to have a BMI over 30 by 2030, and the scientists say rates of colorectal cancer will likely double between now and 2035 for most countries there.


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