Red meat, sugar may play a role in young adults getting colorectal cancer, research says

Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 1:11 PM CDT
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(CNN) - More young adults are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

In fact, it is estimated to become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in those ages 20 to 49 in the United States by the year 2030.

The factors driving the rise remain a mystery. However, a new study suggests dietary and environmental exposures may play a role.

Dr. Suneel Kamath with Cleveland Clinic is the senior author of a new study looking to find out why.

”As far as the cause is concerned, we really know very little about that so far,” Kamath said.

The study compared people who were young that had colorectal cancer and those who developed colorectal cancer at a more average age.

One of the biggest differences when researchers compared the two age groups was that those who are younger than 50 years old with colorectal cancer had lower levels of citrate.

Citrate is created when the body converts food into energy.

Researchers say they also found differences in the breakdowns of protein and carbohydrates, which they say could suggest that red meat and sugar intake may be linked to getting colorectal cancer at a younger age.

Kamath said the key takeaway is to modify your diet.

“The things we know we should be doing, increasing leafy green vegetables, limiting sugar, limiting processed foods, limiting red meat and getting more of our protein from lean meats or poultry or beans, lentils,” he said.

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal pain, weakness, fatigue and weight loss.

”Unfortunately, there’s a narrative out there in both the medical community and the general public that you can be too young to have cancer, and I want people to know that, unfortunately, that isn’t the case,” Kamath said.

Researchers said they hope this study paves the way for future research to further understand the causes of this disease and to hopefully be able to create better therapies for those young adults who are diagnosed with it.