Gut bacteria may explain rise in colon cancer diagnoses among young people

Understanding the gut microbiome in colon cancer patients could one day help prevent the disease, a researcher told Axios.
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  • A new study has analyzed the gut microbiomes of people who get colon cancer young compared to those who get the disease later in life.
  • Certain bacterial strains are more present in the intestines of young colon cancer patients than in older ones.
  • Colon cancer in people under 55 has increased over the past two decades.

The gut microbiome, or the colony of bacteria living inside our colon, could be an important key to helping determine whether a young person will develop colon cancer, according to a new study.

Scientists know that certain bacteria can disrupt the lining of the colon, which can lead to tumor formation and the development of cancer. Based on this, researchers at Georgetown University set out to find out which bacterial strains are most present in the intestines of young people who develop colon cancer.

The Georgetown researchers analyzed the bacteria present in the tumors of 36 people under the age of 45 with colon cancer compared with those of 27 people over the age of 65 with the disease.

They detected 917 unique bacterial and fungal species in the tumors; several bacteria, including Cladosporium, were more present in the intestines of young colon cancer patients, while others, such as Moraxella osloensiswere more prevalent in elderly patients.

“We have trillions of bacteria residing in our bodies, including our gut, some of which are implicated in the development of colorectal cancer, so we believe the microbiome may be an important factor in disease development,” said Benjamin Adam Weinberg, an associate professor of medicine at Georgetown and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Weinberg told Axios that his team’s findings indicate that the composition of the gut microbiome may determine when a person will develop colon cancer, but it’s too early to say for sure. And since diet and environmental factors impact the composition of the microbiome, better understanding what it looks like in colon cancer patients can help determine which foods to avoid for prevention.

Weinberg and other researchers will present their findings at the 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago in June.

People are being diagnosed with colon cancer at a younger age

More and more young people are being diagnosed with colon cancer and dying from it. The proportion of colorectal cancer in people under 55 doubled between 1995 and 2019, from 11% to 20%, according to the American Cancer Society, during the same period the overall incidence of colon cancer declined in the United States.

Scientists predict the disease will be the leading cause of cancer death in people under 50 by 2030.

Colon cancer has a high survival rate when detected early, but young people are generally not diagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage: more than half of people under the age of 50 are diagnosed in stage three or four, compared to only 40% of people. more than 50 diagnosed at these later stages.

They have suspicions, but researchers aren’t sure why more young people are getting colon cancer. Diets high in meat — such as the popular carnivore and keto diets — may increase the risk of colon cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. Rising obesity rates among young people may also be contributing to this trend.

Doctors are calling for increased colon cancer screening tests, especially for people with a family history or risk factors. Scientists recently identified four distinct symptoms – abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and iron deficiency – that young people with colon cancer are more likely to experience.

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