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Colon Cancer Rates On Rise in Low, Middle-Income Countries

Colon cancer is more common in developed countries, but low and middle-income countries are reporting rapid increases in colon cancer incidence.

Colorectal Cancer Definition in Pink Highlighter

Colon cancer used to be thought of as a Western disease that affected only the affluent, and colon cancer was no exception. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, two-thirds of colon cancer cases occur in countries associated with high income.

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Life Expectancy

One reason why colon cancer rates are higher among wealthier nations is that life expectancy is higher in developed countries. Colon cancer is usually associated with advanced age, and most new cases of colon cancer occur in men and women over the age of 50.

The Western Diet

The Western diet also contributes to colon cancer risk. A 2018 study found that a pro-inflammatory diet centered on red meat, refined grains, saturated fats, sugary drinks and processed foods significantly increases colon cancer risk. Replacing fiber-rich fruits and vegetables with foods that are high in fat causes inflammation in the colon, a precursor to cancer.

Obesity Rates

As developed nations grow increasingly sedentary, obesity rates are steadily climbing. One out of every three American adults is obese, making our society more prone to diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Excess weight, especially in the mid-section, increases risk for colon cancer.

Colon Cancer Worldwide

New studies show cancer mortality is a global problem, especially lung, breast and colon cancers. Advancements in colon cancer education, screening and therapies in Western nations have helped to reduce colon cancer incidence, but developing countries are experiencing a surge in new cases.

Lindsey Torre, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, believes lifestyle factors are largely responsible for increases in cancer incidence among low and middle-income nations. For example, smoking is now more common among poorer countries. We are now seeing developing countries adopting unhealthy habits from wealthier nations like eating a Western diet, being sedentary and having a higher body mass index.

Cancer can no longer be considered a Western disease. Colon cancer affects every population group and age level, so it is essential to know the warning signs of colon cancer. If you experience symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bathroom habit changes, rectal bleeding or excess fatigue, call a gastroenterologist.

The American Cancer Society suggests that all adults who are at average risk for colon cancer begin screening at age 45. Talk to your GI doctor about your individual risk so you can get screened at the appropriate time.  

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