Young Onset Colon Cancer on the Rise

When it comes to colon cancer, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that colon cancer incidence and mortality rates are at a historic low. The bad news is that these rates are steadily rising in young adults.

SEER research data shows that colorectal cancer incidence and mortality rates have dropped 3.1 percent and 2.8 percent respectively over the last several years. Despite this trend, however, colon cancer rates among adults aged 20 to 34 are expected to increase by 90 percent by the year 2030. This projected increase has experts questioning whether 50 should still be considered the standard age to begin colon cancer screening.

The cause behind this increase has not been identified, but experts say that several factors are likely involved. “A diet that is high in red meat and processed food will increase your [cancer] risk, but it only slightly increases the risk for colon cancer, so there has to be something else going on,” says Christopher Lieu, MD, assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine, told HemOnc Today. “It is most likely a combination of diet, environment and genetics. It is not all one or the other.”

More than 90 percent of colon cancer cases occur in adults over the age of 50, which makes early detection and diagnosis difficult among young adults. Individuals who experience common colorectal symptoms, such as abdominal pain and blood in the stool, are less likely to suspect colon cancer as the root cause. Additionally, their doctors make be attribute these symptoms to hemorrhoids or a gastrointestinal condition rather than ordering a colonoscopy. As a result, colon cancer in young adults often reaches advanced stages before being diagnosed (Source:

Research has also shown treatment outcome disparities between younger and older colon cancer patients. Some younger patients do not respond as well to aggressive therapies as patients over the age of 50. A clinical study led by Lieu and colleagues found that patients aged 57 had the lowest risk for colon cancer mortality, and patients aged 61 had the lowest risk for colon cancer death or progression. In contrast, patients closest to the age of 18 had a 19 percent increased risk of death and 22 percent increased risk for death or progression.

For the time being, experts are not prepared to change the recommended age for colon cancer screening. However, raising awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of colon cancer could greatly contribute to early detection and better outcomes among young colon cancer patients (Source: Healio).

Common symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain, bloating or cramps
  • Blood in stool
  • Changes in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation or pencil-thin stools)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue

The risk factors for colon cancer are:

  • Age
  • Personal history of polyps
  • Family history of colon cancer or polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease involving the colon
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • High-fat diet
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Diabetes
  • Radiation therapy for cancer
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