Bowel cancers are on the rise among under-50s in the UK, study finds

Young Britons are now at a higher risk of bowel cancer than older generations

Katie O'Malley
Thursday 16 May 2019 16:49 BST
BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen diagnosed with bowel cancer

Bowel cancers are on the rise among people aged under 50 in the UK, a new study finds.

The study, published in the Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal, involved researchers examining colon and rectal cancer rates in developed countries such as the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Denmark from 2004-2014.

The findings showed there were substantial increases in the cancers, with incidents of colon cancer rising by 1.8 per cent and rectal cancer going up by 1.4 per cent on average each year for those in the UK.

The researchers, who are from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, found that younger people born in the UK now being at higher risk of bowel cancer than older generations.

The study showed increases among those aged 30-39 for both colon and rectal cancer and a decrease of 1.7 per cent in incidents of rectal cancer diagnosed in those aged 75 or over.

The NHS estimates that around one in 20 people will get bowel cancer during their lifetime. Symptoms of the condition include a persistent change in bowel habit, abdominal pain, and blood in the stool.

The organisation currently offers bowel cancer screening to people aged 55 or over in England, as this is when you're more likely to get bowel cancer.

Last year, Public Health England announced it would be lowering the age to 50, bringing England in line with Scotland where screening is automatically offered from 50.

As a result of the findings, Dr Marzieh Araghi, the lead author of the study, calls for further lowering of the screening age to improve early detection of bowel cancer.

Dr Araghi said: "Although the incidence of colorectal cancer in adults younger than 50 years remains much lower compared with that in older age groups, our findings are of concern and highlight the need for action to counteract the rising burden of the disease in younger people.

"This rise in incidence among younger generations is likely to be driven in part by the changing prevalence of risk factors, such as obesity and poor diet.

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK, added: "Screening is the best way to diagnose bowel cancer early when it is treatable and curable. Lowering this age will help to transform survival rates for bowel cancer.”

The news comes almost a month after BBC journalist Jeremy Bowen said he had been diagnosed with bowel cancer.

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The 59-year-old revealed his diagnosis on BBC Breakfast, stating that he started experiencing “funny pains” in his legs and back while working in Iraq last May.

Bowen explained that while at first he showed no symptoms of bowel cancer, in October he was informed of his positive cancer diagnosis.

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