More than 90 percent of colon cancer cases occur in individuals over the age of 50. This simple fact has greatly contributed to colon cancer being perceived as an “old person’s disease”, but experts warn that individuals under the age of 50 should be just as aware of problematic symptoms. New findings show that young onset colon cancer is more prevalent than originally expected.
A recent study published in the journal Cancer found that one out of every seven colon cancer patients is under the age of 50 – the recommended age to begin colon cancer screening. The study involved 260,000 colon cancer patients who were diagnosed between 2008 and 2011. Researchers found that 15 percent of patients were under 50. These individuals tended to have colon cancer in more advanced stages than older study participants. However, they generally responded better to cancer treatments and had a lower chance of recurrence.
Lead study author Samantha Hendren expressed surprise to see figures so high, noting that a significant rise was seen among individuals in their 30s and 40s. Hendren called these findings a wake-up call for younger individuals to become familiar with colon cancer symptoms and seek medical attention for any concerns.
Colon cancer in its early stages often presents no symptoms, but individuals may experience:
- Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or pencil-thin stools
- Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
- Abdominal pain
- Unexpected weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
Researchers have not been able to explain this increase among younger individuals, though they suspect that environmental factors could be partly responsible. Certain lifestyle habits such as smoking, obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and lack of exercise may also be contributing factors.
Hendren says these findings do not necessarily mean that screening guidelines will be changed. However, individuals who have a family history of polyps or colon cancer should talk to their doctor about earlier screening (Source: Voice of America). Current guidelines recommend that these individuals begin colon cancer screening at age 40 or 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family (Source: American Cancer Society).