Colorectal cancer is one of the most prevalent and lethal cancers in the United States. The risk of developing this cancer increases with age. That’s why most cases occur in people over the age of 50. But, something has changed. There’s a new mystery to solve.

My colleagues and I are seeing younger and younger patients who are developing colorectal cancer. At Dana-Farber, we have colorectal cancer patients in their 20s. Even more unusual is that as a group, they do not exhibit the typical risk-factors—they don’t have a family history of the disease. It’s not their genetics. They don’t have lifestyle risk-factors. They are not obese. It is predicted that the steep rise in this cancer happening in young people that we see now will continue over the next decade. At Dana-Farber, we are determined to stop that from happening.

The goal of our research is to find out if there is a unique molecular signature, gene-expression signature, or microbiome signature that would identify those most at risk.

That would help us unlock how to develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies. To do that, we are partnering with our young patients in this research. We are collaborating with cancer centers worldwide to enroll more young patients to get answers more quickly. We’ve already uncovered some clues.

Cancer is different within each person and it is always changing within each person. And now, cancer is also developing in different people for different reasons. That’s why at Dana-Farber, we are continually changing as well. Each day, we’re learning, evolving, and getting smarter. We are accelerating breakthroughs as we speed from the lab, to the bedside, back to the lab, and back to the bedside again. Our goal is to provide each patient with the right treatment at the right time in the right way. Because that’s how we will Defy Cancer.

— Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH
Director, Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center
Director of Translational Research, Gastrointestinal Cancer Center
Co-Director, Colon and Rectal Cancer Center
Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

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