DOI: 10.1002/ijc.34887 ISSN: 0020-7136

Environmental drivers of the rising incidence of early‐onset colorectal cancer in the United States

Jianjiu Chen, Mary Beth Terry, Piero Dalerba, Chin Hur, Jianhua Hu, Wan Yang
  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


Incidence of early‐onset (diagnosed before age 50) colorectal cancer (EOCRC) has increased alarmingly since the 1990s in the United States. This study investigated what environmental exposures may have driven this increase. We obtained EOCRC incidence data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, and data for 11 exposures, for example, body mass index (BMI), from long‐term national surveys. We aggregated these data for 30 to 49‐year‐olds during 1992 to 2016 by population subgroups defined by calendar period, age, race and sex, and used negative binomial regression models to identify and estimate associations of EOCRC with multiple exposures. Furthermore, we used counterfactual modeling to quantify contributions of identified risk factors to EOCRC incidence. The top models (with lowest Bayesian Information Criteria) consistently identified excess body weight, represented by overweight and obesity (BMI ≥25) or obesity alone (BMI ≥30), as the strongest risk factor. The best‐performing model estimated increased EOCRC incidence due to overweight and obesity, with an incidence rate ratio (95% confidence interval) of 1.20 (1.17‐1.22) for white men, 1.04 (1.00‐1.08) for black men, 1.17 (1.15‐1.21) for white women and 1.03 (0.97‐1.08) for black women. Increases in overweight and obesity prevalence contributed to an estimated 30% (standard error: 1%) for men and 28% (standard error: 2%) for women of ECORC incidence during 1992 to 2016. These findings suggest excess body weight substantially contributed to and is likely a primary driver of the rising incidence of EOCRC in the United States. Prevention of excess weight gain may help lower colorectal cancer risk early in life.

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