The rate of colorectal cancer diagnosis has risen in younger patients, with later-stage tumors predominant, according to findings from a study based on the large National Cancer Database.

Over a 10-year period, the number of colorectal cancer (CRC) cases increased by 11.4% among patients younger than 50 years, which translates to an average increase of 1.28% per year, or 136 new cases each year. By contrast, the number of newly diagnosed CRC cases in those over 50 years of age, dropped by 2.5% over the same period, according to data presented in a teleconference in advance of the annual Digestive Disease Week.

More advanced cancers were diagnosed in the younger group: stage 3, in 30.6% of patients under 50 years of age vs. 25.1% in those over that age; stage 4, in 25.6% vs. 18.2%, respectively.

“Last year, colorectal cancer was the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., second only to lung cancer. The health care system has done a great deal to heighten patient awareness and increase screenings, but these efforts have focused on people over the age of 50. Our findings show that more efforts need to be aimed at younger people, a group not normally considered at risk,” said lead author Dr. Elie Sutton. “Further, it is very concerning that within younger patients, a higher percentage were diagnosed at later stages.”

The study was based on more than 1 million CRC cases in the National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2013. Factors examined included a comparison of variables between younger-onset and older-onset CRC, such as stage at diagnosis, length of inpatient hospital stay, demographics, and 30-day and 90-day mortality.

In patients for whom data on metastatic disease were available, liver metastasis was reported in 19.4% of younger-onset patients vs. 13.8% of older-onset patients (P less than .001).

As would be expected, hospital stays were shorter for younger-onset patients, who are typically more resilient than older patients. A hospital stay of 5 days or less was recorded for 56.6% of younger-onset patients vs. 43.3% of older-onset patients (P = .001).

Short-term mortality was better for younger patients. Thirty-day mortality was 0.6% for younger-onset patients vs. 3.5% for older-onset patients (P less than .001). Ninety-day mortality was reported in 1.6% vs. 6.4%, respectively (P less than .001), and 8.5% of younger-onset patients had no insurance vs. 2.8% of older-onset patients (P less than .001).

These data are not a surprise, Dr. Sutton commented, in light of the fact that another study showed a similar trend about 5 years ago. “This means we have not adequately addressed risk of CRC in young patients under the age of 50,” he said. “Health care providers should be more vigilant and encourage screening in younger patients,” he emphasized.

Future studies will look at the trends in CRC over time. “We will continue to analyze the National Cancer Database. These insights may be helpful when revisiting colorectal cancer screening guidelines,” Dr. Sutton stated.

Dr. Sutton had no relevant financial disclosures.