Individuals who regularly drink alcohol and are living with obesity are more at risk of dying from bowel cancer, a new study reveals.

Scientists have predicted that the number of bowel cancer deaths among women aged between 25 and 49 will increase by roughly 40% in 2024.

Previous research has found that bowel cancer is the third biggest cancer killer among women, with breast and lung cancer ranking higher.

Experts say that the number of overall bowel cancer deaths are likely to fall this year in the UK.

However, bowel cancer death rates among women aged between 25 and 49 are set to rise by 39% compared to 2018. Meanwhile, the number of bowel cancer deaths in this age group will rise by 26% among men.

According to the researchers, young women are at risk of dying from bowel cancer if they follow an unhealthy lifestyle.

In 2022, broadcaster Dame Deborah James died at the age of 40 after living with bowel cancer for six years.

Professor Carlo La Vecchia, from the University of Milan, stated: “Key factors include obesity and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

“Countries where there has been a reduction in alcohol consumption, such as France and Italy, have not experienced such marked rises in death rates from this cancer. Early onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive, with lower survival rates.”

Currently in England, the NHS invites adults aged 60 to 74 for a bowel cancer screening, with plans to expand the invitation to people aged 50 to 59.

However, campaigners are now urging the government to extend it even further to those aged 45.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, former national cancer director at the Department of Health and Social Care, noted: “There is also a need to reduce the threshold at which people are sent to have a colonoscopy diagnostic test for bowel cancer.”

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “Early onset of cancer in younger people is also a concern, but not entirely surprising, given that young people are being exposed to risk factors early on in life, for example living with overweight and obesity.

“The reasons for the sex differences are unclear but need to be investigated in more detail. Promoting healthy habits such as a balanced diet low in fat sugar and salt, having a healthy weight from early on in life, and avoiding alcohol, as well as early detection, should be central to UK Government health policy and a comprehensive national cancer plan, which includes a strong focus on prevention, is of utmost importance.”

The Department of Health stated: “The independent UK National Screening Committee considers scientific evidence and makes a decision on age cohorts to ensure a programme does more good than harm. Harms from screening can occur through over-diagnosis.”

A 24-year-old woman from Greater Manchester died from bowel cancer last year. Mia Brehme dismissed her symptoms as piles from giving birth.

Since having her three-year-old daughter Kyla-Mae, Mia suffered sporadic anal bleeding but presumed it was caused by giving birth.

She was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer after she was referred for follow-up tests when she began suffering tiredness, nausea, diarrhoea and constipation – common symptoms of the disease.

The 24-year-old died in November last year, only four months after she was diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Mia’s sister, Alicia said: “She was a fit and healthy young mum, and it just didn’t seem true. Mia didn’t want to know the details, she wanted to remain positive and be around for as long as she could for her little girl.

“Mia and I did everything together, I saw her every day. I was with her all through her pregnancy and I was her birthing partner.

“It was Mia’s dying wish for me to raise Kyla and I will make her proud. Kyla looks just like her mummy and it’s a comfort to me that her mummy lives on through her.”

The study was published in the journal Annals of Oncology.

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