People who were born in 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer of people born in 1950.
They also have FOUR times the risk of rectal cancer of people born forty years earlier.
So if you’re 28, you have a greater risk of colorectal cancer than someone who’s 68.
How can that be?
These figures are from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The records of 500,000 Americans who died of colorectal cancer between 1974 and 2013.
The data of the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results programme (SEER).
In summary, those under 55 are 58% more likely to have late-stage colorectal cancer than those over 55.
But the figures also show colorectal cancer is down by 52% between 1970 and 2015.
So, if the overall figures are dropping, why are the figures for young people rising?
The immediate reaction is to assume diet is to blame.
But that’s not the answer.
The answer is, it’s a result of government messaging.
In the UK, for instance, government screening has been responsible for the overall decrease.
Since 1970 it has become automatic for people between the ages of 60 and 75 to get screened.
That’s the good news and also the bad news.
The good news is that screening caught many cases of colorectal cancer at an early stage, in the over 60s.
The bad news is that it wasn’t automatic for anyone under 60.
Screening was thought to be vital for over 60s, less important for those under 60.
So young people didn’t bother getting tested.
Because the message they took out was a message that wasn’t even there.
The overt message was that elderly people were most at risk.
The covert message was old people were the only ones with the problem.
There was no point even thinking about colorectal cancer until you got to 60.
So young people didn’t bother thinking about it.
It didn’t worry them because only old people got it, so they ignored it.
And that explains the rise in colorectal cancer among the young.
But that’s what happens with any communication.
We’re listening for what’s said but, without even being aware of it, we’re also listening for what’s NOT said.
For instance, for years the law was that people in the front seats must wear seat belts.
What we took out of this was that people in the back seats didn’t need to wear seat belts.
And many people died because they thought they were safe.
Also, years ago, the Health Education Council advertised that most of the damage in a cigarette was in the last half.
What most people heard was that the first half of a cigarette wasn’t so harmful.
As long as you stubbed it out before you got past halfway, you avoided the real danger.
And a lot of people died who thought they were being safe.
Because they listened to the message that wasn’t said.
So be careful, what you’re not saying can be as important as what you are saying.
The human mind can interpret the absence of proof as the proof of absence.