Study Finds Tumor Bacteria Differs in Young-Onset Colon Cancer



A new study suggests that young-onset colon cancer patients may have unique tumor-related bacteria compared to average-age colon cancer patients.

Young-onset colorectal cancer (CRC) refers to cancer of the colon or rectum in people younger than 50. More cases are occurring and often leading to death, with most not caused by inherited syndromes. Average-onset CRC is defined as older than 60.

Tissue Differences in Young-Onset Colon Cancer Tumors

The study explored factors that could contribute to the rise in young-onset colon cancer. The research analyzed colon tissue samples from 136 people diagnosed with CRC before age 50 and then compared them to samples from 140 older patients (above age 60) with CRC.

The research found young-onset colon cancer patients may have unique tumor-related bacteria that causes left-sided, rectal and advanced stage tumors.

Young-Onset Colon Cancer Incidence Increasing

Since 2011, colorectal cancer incidence has been increasing by two percent a year in adults younger than 50 as well as adults between 50 and 54.

“The unexplained rise of young-onset colorectal cancer is of great concern,” said Alok Khorana, MD, oncologist and primary investigator of the study. “Our team discovered that bacteria were more abundant and compositionally distinct in tumors from young-onset patients. These insights help us to better understand the disease causes and inform new prevention approaches, diagnostic markers and therapeutic targets."

Next Steps in Young-Onset Colon Cancer Research

The researchers found the bacteria in the tumor. They will now research how to use this information and create plans to tackle the issue.

“We will need to compare the bacteria to that of individuals who don’t have colorectal cancer,” said Shimoli V. Barot, MD, medical oncologist and first author of the paper. “Then we will try to figure out the role bacteria play in the pathogenesis of early-onset colorectal cancer. We want to determine what these bacteria are secreting, how they are interacting with the immune system around the tumor area and how the immune system could be primed to fight these bacteria.”

Through this research, Dr. Barot hopes they can discover new screening biomarkers and drugs that target tumor-related bacteria.

“Further research is needed into how lifestyle factors such as diet, medications and obesity may impact gut bacteria and contribute to young-onset colon cancers,” added Naseer Sangwan, PhD, a first author of the paper (Medical Xpress).

Begin Colon Cancer Screenings at Age 45 or Before

Most colorectal cancer forms from precancerous tissues, called polyps, that grow in the rectum or colon. Colon cancer is highly preventable with routine screenings. Because colon cancer can develop slowly without pain or symptoms, it is important to follow screening guidelines.

Adults at average risk for colon cancer should begin screening at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, you should start screening earlier. Symptoms of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel movements, presence of blood in stool and abdominal discomfort. If you experience any of these symptoms, regardless of your age, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Colonoscopy Is the Gold Standard for Colon Cancer Screening

Several colon cancer screening methods are available, but colonoscopy is the most effective. This procedure allows your gastroenterologist to examine the entire colon and remove polyps before they become cancerous. A colonoscopy typically lasts less than an hour. If your doctor does not detect abnormalities and you are not at higher risk for colon cancer, screening is typically done every 10 years.

Find a Gastroenterologist Near You

Are you under the care of a fellowship-trained gastroenterologist? If not, we can help you find a doctor who specializes in digestive health. Our colon cancer screening centers are located throughout the country, and our physicians are accepting new patients. Call today to make an appointment for a screening colonoscopy.