Colon Cancer on the Rise Among Younger Koreans

  • By Ahn Jun-yong

    September 05, 2022 13:08

    Korea has the world's highest colon cancer rate among people in their 20s through 40s, according to the Korean Society of Coloproctology on Sunday.
    The dramatic increase in the number of young colon cancer patients is mainly due to eating habits, which have been westernized more rapidly than in other countries, and obesity. 
    In a recent study at the University of Colorado published in the Lancet, Korea topped the list of 42 countries surveyed with a colon cancer incidence rate of 12.9 per 100,000 people among those aged 20-49. Next came Australia with 11.2. Korea also had the highest average annual increase in this age group at 4.2 percent.
    The incidence of colon cancer used to be high in the U.S. and Europe, but it has increased rapidly in Korea since the 2000s, especially among young people due to Westernized diet, growing obesity and delayed hospital visits resulting from lack of awareness.
    "Compared to other Asian countries like Japan, many young Koreans eat processed meat and red meat, which they like overcooked or charred," said Lee Woo-yong at the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul. "Another risk factor is that they work out less often than their Western counterparts." 
    Young people also hesitate to visit hospitals despite abdominal pain, a possible sign of colon cancer, and are only diagnosed when the cancer has progressed too far.
    "According to the American Journal of Surgery, it takes 29.5 days on average for a colon cancer patient over 50 between the first symptoms and their first visit to hospital, whereas it takes 217 days on average among under-50s," said Um Jun-won at the Korean Society of Coloproctology. "Even if you're under 50, you should get tested for colon cancer if you have symptoms like blood in stool, anemia, abdominal pain, or stringy stool. You should undergo colonoscopy before you turn 45 if you have a family history of colon cancer." 
    But some experts speculate that the high incidence among young people is actually because they get diagnosed earlier than in other countries as a result of a high colonoscopy rate and a good cancer examination system. 
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