Colon Cancer in Young Adults

Colon cancer in young adults is on the rise as rates of people diagnosed over 50 years of age have decreased. More people over 50 are getting the recommended screening tests leading to earlier treatments. Screening can prevent colon cancer and help maintain a healthy life by finding and removing growths in the colon and rectum before they turn into cancer. If found at an early stage, when it is small and hasn’t spread it may be easier to treat.

Young adults are often unaware that they can develop colon cancer and doctors are often late to diagnose it. This lack of awareness may count in some part for the rise in cases among young adults. Some of the symptoms are kind of vague, which leads some doctors to provide a different diagnosis. Both doctors and patients need to be aware of the seriousness of colon cancer symptoms and screen those who are coming in with concerns.

Colon Cancer – Get the Facts!

Colon cancer is the 3rd most diagnosed cancer and can affect men and women equally. Half of all new cases are diagnosed in those under 66 years of age and many of those experience no signs or symptoms of the disease.  

Colon Cancer is on the Rise in Young Adults:

Younger adults are more likely than older adults to be diagnosed with late-stage colon or rectal cancer. Since they are under the recommended screening age, many are not diagnosed early when it is more treatable. 

  • In 2020, there will be about 18,000 new cases diagnosed in those under 50
  • One in five diagnosed with colon cancer are between 20 and 54
  • 3rd leading cause of death in young adults
  • Risk increases with age as 90% of cases are in those 50 and older
  • Rates are falling in those over 50, but rates are increasing in those under 50
  • Those born after 1990 have 2X the risk of developing colon cancer and 4X the risk of developing rectal cancer than those born in 1950

What are the Risk Factors of Colon Cancer?

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of getting colon cancer. Some are beyond your control but others can be affected by your lifestyle. There are steps you can take to protect yourself. A colonoscopy screening can be used to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.

Risks of colorectal cancer include:

  • Age is a risk factor as most cases occur in people over 60 years old. As mentioned above, cases are rising in young adults, but a lot of cases before 50 years old also have a family history of colon cancer.
  • If you have a personal history of colon cancer you are at high risk for developing it again. 
  • African Americans and Jewish people of Eastern European descent are at higher risk.
  • If you have a parent or sibling who had colon cancer before age 55, you are at higher risk.
  • Genetics play a part as 20% of colon cancer cases are due to specific genetic mutations. 

Read more details about risk factors of colon cancer

Colon Cancer Symptoms in Young People

Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, be sure to see your doctor if symptoms continue for a period of time.

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days. Changes would include diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of the stool.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Continuous feeling of needing to have a bowel movement
  • Weakness

What to do if you experience these symptoms?

  • Be sure to visit your doctor for regular visits and discuss the symptoms you are experiencing.  
  • Be proactive. Make an appointment even if it’s not time for a regular visit if you have concerns or feel something is just not right. 
  • Educate yourself about colon cancer by using the resources we have provided.
  • Know the symptoms of colon cancer and your family history. Be sure to provide your doctor with a full family history to determine if you are at high risk.
  • Become familiar with the various screening methods available which range from minimally invasive to endoscopic and imaging tests. Discuss with your doctor what might be best for you.

Early detection is key. Contact us for appointments, questions, and concerns

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About the Author

Dr. Anton Bilchik

Anton J. Bilchik, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, FACS, is the Professor of Surgery, Chief of General Surgery, and Director of Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary Program at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Anton J. Bilchik, MD is an internationally recognized surgeon and scientist who has pioneered techniques to improve staging cancer and minimally invasive approaches to improve outcomes. Learn More About Dr. Anton Bilchik.

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