It’s alarming. The number of younger adults with colorectal cancer has nearly doubled in recent years, according to the Journal of National Cancer Institute.
The American Cancer Society reports that although the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for several decades in older adults, due to early screenings and improved treatment, more younger people are diagnosed with the disease at advanced stages, and many are dying of the disease. Half of all new diagnoses of colorectal cancer in the United States are now in people 66 or younger.
This prompted the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to lower the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45 in 2021.
two symptoms in particular, rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen, point to the need for timely endoscopy and follow-up.
Part of the reason many of these younger patients had more advanced disease is that one study found many young adults had symptoms for up to two years before they were finally diagnosed.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified four important signs and symptoms that signal an elevated risk of early-onset colorectal cancer.
Abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia each indicates an increased risk in those under age 50. They found that having a single one of the symptoms almost doubled the risk; having two symptoms increased the risk by more than 3.5 times, and having three or more boosted the risk by more than 6.5 times.
Genetics- Almost 30 percent of colorectal cancer patients have a family history of the disease. If you have a parent, sibling, or child with colorectal cancer, you are four times more likely to develop it than someone without any family history.
Sex – Men have a 33 percent higher risk than women. Female sex hormones have show to offer some protection.
Race- Colorectal cancer incidence is highest in people who are Black, Alaska Native, or American Indian according to the American Cancer Society’s 2023 report.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease – People with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, have almost double the risk of developing colorectal cancer compared with those without these diseases.
Obesity– Abdominal fat has proven to be especially dangerous.
Prolonged Sitting- Over 40 German studies linked people who spent most of their time sitting at desks or driving as having a 24% increased risk of developing colon cancer
Red Flag Symptoms:
-A change in bowel habits, like diarrhea, constipation or narrowing of your stool, that lasts for more than a few days
-An urge to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
-Rectal bleeding – even just one time, should not be ignored
-Dark brown or black stool (which can indicate blood)
-Cramping or belly pain
-Weakness and fatigue
-Unexplained weight loss
-Unexplained anemia- which could be a result of blood loss somewhere in the body
While the best colorectal cancer screening is a colonoscopy, 4 in 10 Americans aged 45 and older are not up to date on colorectal cancer screening, according to the American Cancer Society’s latest report.
If you’re set against getting a colonoscopy, at least get one of these three at-home stool sample tests to reduce the risk of death:
-Fecal occult blood test
-Fecal immunochemical test
-Stool DNA test (Cologuard)
Just know, if these tests reveal anything suspicious, your doctor will still order a colonoscopy.