Colorectal cancer ‘hotspots’ discovered in south as death rate among men rises

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah —  Although cancer survival rates are generally improving in the United States, doctors say cases of colorectal cancer are rising. A new study warns the disease is showing up more and more among men, and where one lives could play a big part in it.

Charles R. Rogers of the Huntsman Cancer Institute says his study of early-onset colorectal cancer cases pinpoints more than 200 “hotspots” across the southern U.S. Within these counties, doctors are finding disease cases are climbing and also killing young adult men at higher rates.

Colorectal cancer cases in younger adults

Rogers and his team used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program in their study. The results show 232 U.S. counties where colorectal cancer was on the rise. Early-onset cases are especially growing in men between 15 and 49.

Colorectal cancer map
This is a map of colorectal cancer hotspots in the United States. (Image credit: Rogers et al. American Journal of Cancer Research)

Many of those diagnoses are clustered in the lower Mississippi Delta; which includes parts of Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Other cancer hotspots include Alabama, South Carolina, and eastern portions of Virginia and North Carolina.

“If young men are not already doing so, adults younger than 50 should have conversations with health care providers about early detection screening for colorectal cancer,” Rogers recommends in a statement.

“This is especially the case if they have any symptoms of colorectal cancer, a family history of the disease, or if they live in the ‘hotspot’ counties we have identified for early-onset colorectal cancer,” he adds.

Men of color face higher risk

Non-Hispanic Black men in the hotspots are seeing the worst survival rates after diagnosis compared to other racial groups. Hispanic men with early-onset colorectal cancer are also seeing lower survival rates in these zones.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer or bowel cancer, is typically found in patients older than 50. According to the CDC, common symptoms include blood in your stool, persistent stomach pain, and unexplained weight loss.

Health officials add it’s the second-leading cancer killer in the country, but early detection helps to improve the survival rate.

Hotspots and the link to smoking

Researchers say smoking seems to be a common trend in the areas where the disease is on the rise. Current estimates show 14 percent of U.S. adults are active smokers. In hotspots, however, 24 percent of adults are current smokers and have smoked over 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.

“After identifying these geographic disparities, the focus of our study was to better understand the role of individual and county-level characteristics in explaining regional variations in early-onset colorectal cancer survival among these men,” the cancer researcher and assistant professor of public health at the University of Utah says.

Although the CDC recommends regular screenings after the age of 50, Rogers is developing community-based intervention and awareness programs aimed to lowering the disease’s rise in young men.

The study was published in the American Journal of Cancer Research.

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