Younger adults are getting bowel cancer and researchers want to know why.
Bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer, with 103 Australians losing their lives to the disease in an average week. Also known as colorectal cancer, the good news is it is one of the most treatable types of cancer if detected early.
As with most illnesses, the risk of bowel cancer increases significantly as we get older. However, the prevalence of colorectal cancer in younger adults (those aged under 50 years) has been rising and researchers want to know why.
Associate Professor Joanne Young, part of the Basil Hetzel Institute’s Solid Tumour Group, was recently given funding by The Hospital Research Foundation to continue her important studies into this trend. As the Principal Investigator of the South Australian Young Onset (SAYO) colorectal cancer study, her project has identified a significant link between bowel cancer and Type 2 diabetes.
“The rising incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults is not just happening in Australia, it is a widespread occurrence around the world,” says A/Prof Joanne Young.
“Recent findings from our research program has linked colorectal cancer to young adults with a personal or first-degree family history of Type 2 diabetes.”
In fact, according to latest figures, people with Type 2 diabetes are 30-40 per cent more likely than the general population to develop bowel cancer – with those under 50 at higher risk again.
“If we can accurately identify this link, we can help those at higher risk to detect and treat the cancer in its early stages,” says A/Prof Joanne Young.
Having uncovered promising data from the pilot study, A/Prof Young has been recruiting new patients to extend the study with promising signs.
“We have now interviewed over 200 young people with bowel cancer and one of the unexpected findings we made is that one in 20 of them carry a gene mutation usually associated with breast cancer. That is something we are also going to follow up.”
While screening effectively identifies the early signs of the disease, screen tests for those under 50 years of age has not been considered cost-effective in Australia. That’s why it’s important that we support the A/Prof Young’s research to help those at highest risk.
“Young people with a personal or family history of Type 2 diabetes should act quickly on any unusual changes in bowel symptoms. Diet, exercise and watching body weight are also important,” says A/Prof Young.