In a new paper published in the June 2021 volume of JNCI Cancer Spectrum, researchers found that among the younger individuals with colorectal cancer, higher consumption of red meat was associated with a 10% increase in disease risk. Previously-identified factors that increase colorectal cancer risk in the general population, including smoking and high BMI, were not found to increase colorectal cancer risk among individuals under 50.
Surprisingly, alcohol intake, which has long been established as a risk factor for colorectal cancer by the American Cancer Society, was a double-edged sword in terms of early-onset colorectal cancer risk. Individuals with heavier alcohol use—classified as more than two drinks a day—were more likely to develop early-onset colorectal cancer, but individuals who abstained from alcohol completely also had a higher risk of developing the disease.
Additionally, researchers found that study subjects who didn’t regularly take aspirin were more likely to develop early-onset colorectal cancer. Individuals with a history of diabetes, as well as those who consumed lower levels of folate, calcium, and fiber were all more likely to develop early-onset colorectal cancer, although a low-fiber diet was a more common predictor of rectal cancer than colon cancer.