A new study from the American Cancer Society revealed a startling phenomenon in colorectal cancer: cases are trending younger while the severity of diagnoses is increasing. As shown in the graphic above, despite an overall reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer—thanks to an emphasis on earlier detection and treatment—more severe diagnoses of colorectal cancer (termed “regional” and “distant”) each grew by over 30 percent in adults under age 50 from 2010 to 2019.
While researchers are still exploring the causes for the increase in younger people, it underscores the importance of new guidance from May 2021 which lowered the recommended colorectal cancer screening age from 50 to 45. One bright spot: unlike most other cancer screenings, screenings for colorectal cancer actually increased during the pandemic, thanks to the rise of at-home stool testing. Stool testing was especially common among lower income and minority populations who often struggle to access colonoscopies.
However, there is evidence that flagged patients are not scheduling critical follow-up colonoscopies. Better connection between at-home assessments and more thorough diagnostic services is a critical next step in the broader home-based care movement.