August 23rd, 2010
10:32 AM ET

Rectal cancer up among younger adults

A new study finds rectal cancer rates are rising among adults under 40, the journal Cancer reported Monday.

Using National Cancer Institute data, the study found cancer rates remain low but are increasing among both men and women and across racial groups.

Dr. Joshua E. Meyer, the study’s lead author, says doctors should consider rectal cancer as a real though remote possibility when assessing patients with bloody stools or other abnormal bowel movements.

“We do know that in younger patients there could be a delay in diagnosis,” Meyer said. “When doctors see a patient who is bleeding or has some of these other symptoms I hope doctors put this on the list.”

Hemorrhoids remain the most likely cause of a bloody stool, but misdiagnosing cancer as hemorrhoids could allow the cancer to grow and spread throughout the body, he added

Rectal cancer rates rose an average of 2.6 percent from 1973 to 2005, with the increase starting in 1984, the study found. During the same period, colon cancer rates remained flat.

Meyer, who is in the Radiation Oncology Department at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said the reason for the increase is unclear. If changes in lifestyle such as a fatty diet were the cause, then colon cancer rates should also be rising, he said.

Rectal cancer remains rare, about one in every 238,000 people during the time period of the study. Colon cancer was almost three times as common.

The journal Cancer is published by the American Cancer Society.

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