Colorectal cancer: young people get it, too

Cases of colon and rectal cancer are going up in people under the age of 50. People younger than 50 are rarery screened for these cancers. According to a recent study, rates among younger people grew by more than 11% between 2004 and 2014. That is a significant increase, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center recently projected that cases of colon cancer in people aged 20 to 34 will increase by 90% by 2030. They expect the number of rectal cancer diagnoses to more than double.

Black people are about twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed before the age of 50. European nations and Australia are also seeing a rise. However, there is some good news. Younger colorectal cancer patients have a better chance of surviving. Someone diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in their 30s can tolerate more aggressive treatment and will therefore be more likely to do better than someone in their 80s who has stage 3 colorectal cancer along with other health problems.

Experts do not yet know why the rates of colorectal cancer have been rising among young people since 1990. Younger people today eat more fast food and processed food, which are associated with colorectal and other kinds of cancers. Also, hormones and antibiotics used on livestock and found in meat and other animal products might reduce the ability of our gut bacteria to protect us from disease.

What to do? Get screened earlier, by 40 years of age, especially if you have family history of colorectal cancer. The usual age at which screening starts is 50. Patients and primary care doctors must recognize and address the symptoms of colorectal cancer, such as:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • Persistent abdominal cramping or pain