Colon cancer can occur in people in their 20s, and more and more young people are being diagnosed with the disease.
In the past, colon cancer was labeled an old person’s disease. However, the rising trend of colorectal cancer incidence among younger people has been seen since at least the mid-1990s. Studies show that the incidence of colorectal cancer in people under 50 increased 2% every year between 2012-2016. Rates have decreased among older people, however, due to an increase in colorectal screening and consequent preventive measures.
In 2020, young-onset colorectal cancer accounted for about 11% of colon cancer cases and 15% of rectal cancer cases. This is a remarkable increase from 2010, when young-onset colorectal cancer accounted for only 5% of colon cancer cases and 9% of rectal cancer cases. Even the death rates due to colorectal cancer have increased by 1% each year from 2008-2017 despite an overall decline in colon cancer death rates.
When should you start screening for colon cancer?
Owing to the alarming rise in colorectal cancer cases in younger individuals, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has lowered the age of initiation for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45 for people with an average risk of colon cancer.
Regardless, if you experience symptoms that may be suggestive of colorectal cancer, or if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you should consult your doctor about getting screened.
Generally, it is advised to start your screening 10 years earlier than the age your family member was when they were diagnosed with colorectal cancer. For example, if your parent or sibling was diagnosed at age 50, you should get your initial screening done at age 40.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer in young people?
Symptoms of colon cancer are largely the same irrespective of age. Colorectal cancer typically does not cause symptoms in early stages, and even when symptoms are present, they may be mild or nonspecific. Younger individuals are more likely to ignore these symptoms and not consider them to be a sign of a serious condition. Many may even confuse symptoms with less serious diseases such as hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, or peptic ulcer disease.
When present, symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:
How can I reduce my risk of colon cancer?
While there is no one way to prevent colon cancer, you may be able to reduce your risk with lifestyle changes:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
- Get screened for colorectal cancer as recommended by your doctor
- Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in processed and red meat
- Avoid or limit your alcohol intake (no more than 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men)
- Quit smoking
- Take vitamins and mineral supplements regularly (if prescribed by your doctor)
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