The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma in adults aged younger than 50 years increased threefold between 1975 and 2015, based on data from more than 34,000 cases.
Esophageal carcinoma rates overall have risen in the United States over the past 4 decades, but the average patient is in their 60s, wrote Don C. Codipilly, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., and colleagues. Therefore, “data on the incidence, stage distribution, and outcomes of this segment of patients [younger than 50 years] with esophageal adenocarcinoma are relatively limited.”
In a study published in, the researchers identified 34,443 cases of esophageal adenocarcinoma using the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database for the periods of 1975-1989, 1990-1999, and 2000-2015. The cases were limited to histologically confirmed cases and were stratified according to age at diagnosis: younger than 50 years, 50-69 years, and 70 years and older
Overall, the annual incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma among individuals younger than 50 years increased from 0.08 per 100,000 persons in 1975 to 0.27 per 100,000 persons in 2015.
Younger patients show more advanced illness
Although the incidence rose across all three age groups during the study period, the largest increase was seen in those aged 70 years and older. However, the younger group was significantly more likely to present at more-advanced stages, the researchers pointed out: Between 2000 and 2015, localized disease represented only 15.1% of cases in those younger than 50 years, compared with 22.4% in patients aged 50-69 years and 32.2% in those 70 years and older. The incidence of regional/distant disease among younger patients has increased over time, with 81.8% in 1975-1989, 75.5% in 1990-1999, and 84.9% in 2000-2015 (P < .01), and this increase has been faster than among older groups, the researches noted. For comparison, during 2000-2015 only 77.6% of patients aged 50-69 years and 67.8% of patients 70 years and older had regional/distant disease.
In addition, the majority of cases of young-onset esophageal adenocarcinoma occurred in men in a trend that persisted across the study periods; 90% of patients younger than 50 years were male in 1975, and 86% of the younger patients in 2015 were male.
“There is no clear explanation for the higher proportion of advanced disease in younger patients, and further study is required to identify biologic, genetic, and environmental factors that may underlie this observation,” the researchers wrote. “A potential hypothesis is that ‘young-onset esophageal adenocarcinoma’ may involve rapid transition from intestinal metaplasia to esophageal adenocarcinoma, driven by an increase in signaling molecules that are active in the intestine,” they suggested.
The study findings were limited by several factors including the inability to review individual case records to confirm disease stage and to compare outcomes across ethnicities, and the lack of data on comorbidities in the SEER database, the researchers noted.
However, the results were strengthened by overall quality of the SEER database and use of multivariate analysis, they added. The evidence of increased incidence and increased odds of advanced disease in younger adults suggest that “reevaluation of our diagnostic and treatment strategies in this age group might need to be considered.”