November 29, 2021

It’s estimated within the next decade 1 in 10 colon cancers and 1 in 4 rectal cancers will be diagnosed in adults younger than 50 years.

Bowel Cancer NZ is committing funding towards research that will compare the gut microbiome of people with early versus late-onset colorectal cancer (CRC). Dr Rachel Purcell (pictured) leads the project and is a Senior Research Fellow with the University of Otago, Department of Surgery.

Despite an overall reduction in CRC, there has been a marked increase in CRC in those younger than 50 years of age in the United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and France. The increase in young CRC patients in these Western populations is largely driven by the increased incidence of distal colon and rectal carcinoma. In New Zealand, we have shown that among patients aged under 50 years, the incidence of distal colonic cancer in men increased by 14 per cent per decade, while the incidence of rectal cancer in men increased by 18 per cent and that in women by 13 per cent. 

The government-run National Bowel Screening Programme does not detect early-onset colorectal cancer due to the age limit, so it’s important we develop the correct tools to identify it. This study will benefit researchers and clinicians working in the field and may impact future research into screening and treatment development.