Millennials are more likely to get bowel cancer than their parents because of their low-fiber diets, lack of exercise and other factors, a new report says.
Americans in their 20s are four times more at risk of developing the deadly disease than than those born around 1950, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
“It’s tied to environmental factors. There are toxins in the air we breath and the water we drink. The world is a much dirtier place than it used to be, ” said Matthew Zachary, CEO of the New York-based non-profit Stupid Cancer, which helps young adults.
A striking three in 10 people diagnosed with rectal cancer are younger than 55 years old — double the number nearly 30 years ago, according to the report. By contrast, rates in adults over the age of 55 dropped steadily over the same time period.
Sedentary lifestyles and low-fiber consumption also contribute to the disturbing trend, according to American Cancer Society researcher Rebecca Siegel, who led the study.
The number of young people diagnosed with the disease is now worse than a century ago, she said.
“Our finding is that [bowel] cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s and is very sobering,” she said in the report.
“[It’s] just very shocking,” Siegel told the Washington Post.
Researchers recommend that people begin screening for colon and rectal diseases their early 20s instead of in their 60s, as has been past practice. But few insurance companies will cover those screenings, Zachary said.
“Insurance doesn’t cover colonoscopy screenings for young people,” he said. “And who is going to think to do it when they’re in college feeling great?”
He added, “There’s no generation that’s more vegan or socially conscious than millennials — but , when it comes to cancer, none of that matters.”
The study also found that between the mid-1980s and 2013, colon cancer rates spiked up to 2 percent per year for people in their 20s and 30s. Rates for middle-aged adults also rose, but at a slower pace.
About 50,000 people are expected to die of bowel cancer in the United States this year.
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