Bowel cancer rise among young 'may be due to lifestyle'
Bowel cancer is on the rise among young people in Europe - and their lifestyles may be partly to blame.
Ireland was included in a study of 20 European countries which found the disease - more common among the elderly - is now increasing among younger age groups in their twenties and thirties.
More than 2,700 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer - also known as colon or colorectal cancer - in Ireland every year, and it is the second most common form of the disease.
Research presented to the United European Gastroenterology meeting in Vienna showed the rate of new cases of colon cancer among people aged 20-39 has gone up 7.4pc each year between 2008 and 2016, with incidence of rectal cancer also increasing.
Similar trends have been seen in other parts of the world including the US, Australia and China.
Fanny Vuik, of the Erasmus medical centre in Rotterdam who presented the findings at the meeting, said: "We were wondering if this trend was also seen in the European population.
"We are aware of investigations in the North American population demonstrate that colorectal cancer is increasing in young adults. In Europe, however, information until now has been limited and it's worrying to see the startling rates at which colorectal cancer is increasing in the young."
The research involved looking at data from national cancer registries including Ireland, the UK, Norway, Slovenia and Germany.
"We did see a decrease in incidence for the older population and that is because most of the European countries have a [colorectal cancer] screening programme.
"So we detect cancer at an earlier stage and also we have new therapies."
BowelScreen is available in Ireland and involves inviting men and women, aged between 60 to 69, to take part.
However, the researchers said they do not recommend screening be extended to younger individuals because although rates have risen, the absolute risk remains low.
For young people between the age of 20 and 39, the incidence increased from 2.2 to 4.9 per 100,000 persons between 1990 and 2016.
They suggested the rise could be due to various reasons and the next step was to get insight into what might be driving the trend.
Dr Manon Spaander of the Erasmus medical centre commented: "Is it obesity, is it diabetes, is it the microbiome, is it inactivity, is it processed meat? We don't know yet."
Experts say the rise in overweight young people and obesity as well as modern diets are playing a role.
Having a family history of bowel cancer in a first-degree relative - a mother, father, brother or sister - under the age of 50 can increase lifetime risk of developing the condition.
A large body of evidence suggests a diet high in red and processed meat can increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.
The advice is that people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) a day of red and processed meat cut down to 70g a day.
There is also evidence that suggests a diet high in fibre could help reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Drinking alcohol has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer.