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Some health officials say that even a minimal amount of daily alcohol can create health risks. FG Trade Latin/Getty Images
  • Scientists predict that cancer deaths will drop in the United Kingdom and Europe in 2024, with some notable exceptions.
  • They expect deaths from colorectal cancer in young adults ages 25 to 49 to surge by up to 39%.
  • While it’s unclear why colorectal cancer deaths among young adults is on the rise, factors such as alcohol consumption and obesity are believed to be contributors.

New predictions of cancer deaths in the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) indicate that although overall deaths from the disease are dropping, more young adults are dying from colorectal cancer.

At first glance, the research published this weekend in the Annals of Oncology, bears some encouraging news about cancer.

Scientists predict that total deaths from cancer in the UK and the EU will drop in 2024 compared to 2018 — 6% for men and 4% for women.

However, the reality is more somber when looking into specific types of cancer.

Deaths from pancreatic cancer, for example, are predicted to increase in the EU in 2024, slightly among both men (1%) and women (4%). The rates are expected to dip slightly in the UK.

The scientists say the most worrisome trend is deaths from colorectal cancer in young adults.

While overall deaths from colorectal cancer will decline, age-specific deaths tell a different story. In the UK, colorectal cancer deaths among men aged 25 to 49 are predicted to surge by 26%. Among women in the same age group, that number climbs to nearly 39%.

Dr. Cindy Kin, an associate professor of surgery at Stanford Medicine in California who was not involved in the research, told Medical News Today that the predictions “reflect what we as surgeons and doctors treating patients with colorectal cancer are seeing in the U.S. as well. We have all seen patients with colorectal cancer who are shockingly young — people in their 30s and 40s — even the occasional one in their 20s. It is a very concerning trend from a public health perspective.”

Colorectal cancer deaths are also expected to increase among specific populations within the EU in the 25-to-49 age group. These include: Italian men (1%) and women (2%); Polish men (nearly 6%); Spanish men (5%); and German women (7%).

The research doesn’t directly answer what is driving colorectal cancer deaths among young adults, but it does point to several lifestyle factors that have been shown to be associated with the disease as potential risks.

These include: obesity, diabetes, not being physically active, diet, and alcohol consumption.

Dr. Carlo La Vecchia, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy and an author of the research, told Medical News Today that “overweight, obesity, diabetes, and in broader term the metabolic syndrome are associated with a 50 to 100 percent excess relative risk of colorectal cancer. Heavy alcohol drinking is also associated with a 20 to 40 percent excess risk.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, the dangers of alcohol could potentially increase the risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 50%. Alcohol consumption is also associated with numerous other cancers, including head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, and liver cancer.

In 2023, the World Health Organization, issued a statement indicating that “there is no safe amount” when it comes to alcohol consumption and health.

“The most recent data has largely debunked the idea that moderate drinking (say 1 to 2 glasses of wine a day) is good for you… In addition to its more well-known effects on the liver are its carcinogenic effects on multiple organs, including the gastrointestinalI tract from the mouth to the colon and rectum, pancreas, breast, uterus, and ovaries,” said Kin.

However, alcohol consumption isn’t the only factor listed in the report.

Obesity is also named as a major contributing factor. Individuals with obesity are 30% more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Obesity is also associated with at least 13 cancers, in addition to other significant co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

Colorectal cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, behind lung cancer.

From 1995 to 2019, the number of colorectal cancer diagnoses in adults under 55 nearly doubled. In response to rising rates of colorectal cancers in young adults, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force announced for the first time in 2021 that it was lowering the recommended age to begin colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45.

Early and accurate screening has been a cornerstone of lowering colorectal cancer-related mortality. In addition to screening, experts say lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, are also recommended to lower risk of colorectal cancer.

“The key message for colorectal cancer is control of overweight/obesity. Early screening and diagnosis can also reduce such excess risk,” said La Vecchia.

The American Cancer Society recommends six steps to decrease colorectal cancer risk:

  • Get screened for colorectal cancer.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Lose weight if you have obesity.
  • Quit smoking or don’t start.
  • Don’t drink alcohol.

“Eat more plants and move your body every day. The more you build your lifestyle around those priorities, the easier it is to sustain. More produce, less meat, less processed foods… Don’t ignore symptoms or assume they are benign — get checked out and advocate for yourself,” said Kin.