Cancer has been a puzzle for medical professionals for centuries now. And despite improvements in treatment, medicines, therapeutics, and even surgical methods, we are nowhere near to finding a cure. Instead, with every passing year, statistics say we are falling behind and the number of cases is only rising.

As the world mourns the death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away on Saturday, August 29 at mere 43 years of age due to colon cancer, researchers already had a stern warning five months ago in March. In a study, the researchers revealed that cases of Colon and rectal cancers were on the rise, especially among people under 50 years of age.

Colorectal Cancer Second Deadliest

Colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer is rising among young adults under 50 years of age Colorectal Cancer Alliance

While lung and breast cancers are the most common in the U.S., colorectal now occupies the third position with around 1.8 million cases being reported in the world every year. The study which was published in the American Cancer Society (ACS) journal said that in 1989, the median age was 72.

But over the last three decades, the median has dipped to 66 with a significant rise among people under 50 while causing the second most cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Over 50,000 people die of the colon or rectal cancer every year in the U.S. as per the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's cancer statistics.

Dr. Rebecca Siegel, co-author of the study and a research director at the ACS in Atlanta said that the rising number of cases was already known to doctors. But the study stunned even them as they were surprised to see "how fast it is happening." She said that doctors must be alert to the "unique challenges" in the patients of this age group.

"This report is very important because it not only provides a snapshot of the current colorectal cancer burden but also a window to the future," Dr. Siegel told CNN.

Diet Plays Huge Role

Colon Cancer
Colorectal cancer is now the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US CDC

According to the statistical report, the number of colorectal cancer cases spiked since the 1990s, with a 2.2 percent annual increase between 2012 and 2016. Among people over 65, the cases, however, declined by 3.3 percent annually between 2011 and 2016.

It must be noted that consumption of fast and junk food has also increased significantly during this period. More calories contribute to obesity and Dr. Siegel believes it is one contributing factor, but the only reason. Even alcohol consumption plays a part. As per the latest statistics (2017), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer associated with alcohol.

"Diet has a large influence on colorectal cancer risk and there is a lot of research going on looking at how different things we consume, including drugs such as antibiotics, influence gut health, specifically their role in determining the microorganisms that make up our microbiome," she added.

Misdiagnosis

However, there is a problem too. Misdiagnosis of colorectal cancer among young adults is also rising despite advancement in screening methods and tools. Most young adults visiting doctors with problems of constipation are advised laxatives and are not screened for cancer because of their age.

Hence, when they are in an advanced stage (III or IV), the treatment starts. According to a survey, about 67 percent of the respondents, who were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, had to visit at least two doctors before they were screened. "It's an overlooked population because they're younger and usually tend to be healthy. It's most important that people know the symptoms," Dr. Ronit Yarden, lead author of the research said.