Over the past several decades, the incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer (EOCRC; in patients <50 years old) has increased at an alarming rate. Although robust and scientifically rigorous epidemiological studies have sifted out environmental elements linked to EOCRC, our knowledge of the causes and mechanisms of this disease is far from complete. Here, we highlight potential risk factors and putative mechanisms that drive EOCRC and suggest likely areas for fruitful research. In addition, we identify inconsistencies in the evidence implicating a strong effect of increased adiposity and suggest that certain behaviours (such as diet and stress) might place nonobese and otherwise healthy people at risk of this disease. Key risk factors are reviewed, including the global westernization of diets (usually involving a high intake of red and processed meats, high-fructose corn syrup and unhealthy cooking methods), stress, antibiotics, synthetic food dyes, monosodium glutamate, titanium dioxide, and physical inactivity and/or sedentary behaviour. The gut microbiota is probably at the crossroads of these risk factors and EOCRC. The time course of the disease and the fact that relevant exposures probably occur in childhood raise important methodological issues that are also discussed.
Anindya Chanda · ·