Colorectal Cancer

Scientists from across the US, at institutions like MIT and Harvard, have discovered how early-stage colorectal cancer manages to dodge our immune system.

This breakthrough could prove pivotal in helping to come up with new ways to treat colorectal cancer early on, especially since more young people are getting diagnosed.

Here we’ll explore what’s driving the rise in cases of colorectal cancer in young adults, what the scientists discovered, and how spotting the disease early can make a huge difference.

Colorectal cancer rates increasing in younger people

Colorectal cancer cases are climbing among young adults, with cases reported in those as young as 20. Yale Medical’s surgeons are urging those under 45 to consult their doctor about any suspicious symptoms they may have.

With data from the American Cancer Society revealing that around 20% of colorectal cancer diagnoses in 2019 were in people under 55, the need for increased awareness and early detection is more pressing than ever.

Early cancer cells found to recruit gene to evade immunity

The recent study revealed that early-stage colorectal cancer cells can ‘hide’ from the immune system by activating the SOX17 gene. In experiments where the researchers developed miniature colon tumours in mice, these tumours showed an increased expression of SOX17 when they carried mutations in cancer-related genes like Kras, p53, and APC.

SOX17 normally plays a role in embryonic development, helping to form the intestines and blood vessels. However, when active in cancer cells, it creates a shield that suppresses the immune response, allowing the cancer cells to grow unimpeded. It blocks the cells’ response to interferon gamma, a key molecule used by the immune system to trigger cell death in abnormal cells.

This early research could lead to potential therapeutic strategies which may help disrupt the SOX17 pathway and halt the progression of the cancer.

Identifying the symptoms of early colorectal cancer

Early detection of colorectal cancer is vital for successful treatment. Key symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Persistent changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Unexplained abdominal pain or cramping
  • Unintentional weight loss

As early-stage colorectal cancer may not produce any noticeable symptoms, regular screening and immediate attention to changes in the body are imperative for early diagnosis.

The increase in colorectal cancer in younger people, combined with this innovative research on how cancer cells avoid immune detection, show just how important early diagnosis is.

If you are concerned about any unusual symptoms or about your colorectal cancer risk, schedule an appointment with Consultant Colorectal Surgeon Professor Jamie Murphy today.