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Colorectal Cancer Now Targeting Those Under 50

Colorectal cancer is on the rise in young adults. The American Cancer Society predicts 135,000 new cases of CRC in 2017, with 1 in 7 of these diagnoses for patients under the age of 50.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is no longer considered a cancer for the older population. It is now targeting those under 50 at an alarming rate. The American Cancer Society predicts 135,000 new cases of CRC in 2017, with 1 in 7 of these diagnoses for patients under the age of 50. Data shows that CRC rates among those under age 50 increased by more than 11% between 2004 and 2014. And if the current trend continues, it’s predicted that by the year 2030, colon cancer among people ages 20-34 will increase by 90% and rectal cancer will increase by 124.2%.

Screening tests, such as a colonoscopy, can detect CRC at the earliest stage (even precancerous) when it is easier to treat and often curable. Unfortunately, these young-onset patients are years, even decades away from the recommended screening age of 50, so it is critical that patients and doctors alike pay close attention to the most common signs and symptoms of CRC and take them seriously. To avoid missing the diagnosis, we need to be more vigilant when assessing problems such as rectal bleeding or iron-deficiency anemia. We also should better identify patients at risk—including those with a family history of colorectal cancer, Lynch syndrome, or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)—and screen and treat them at an earlier age.

Why the rise?
Unfortunately, there is no known cause for the rise in colorectal cancer rates among the younger population. It is estimated that 25% of the cases can be attributed to family history of the disease or to hereditary conditions such as Lynch syndrome or FAP, but the majority have no associated risk factors. Many research studies are currently being conducted to help determine a possible cause for the steady rise in cases.

What can we do?
The most important factor in any cancer diagnosis is to find it at it’s earliest stage when it is treatable and beatable. Colon cancer is no different. Over 90% of colon cancer cases can be cured if found and treated early. Since screening does not apply to this age group, the following tips can help get young-onset patients diagnosed earlier:

  • Ask about family history of colorectal cancer and get screened earlier if necessary.
  • Get tested for hereditary conditions – know your risk.
  • Both patients and physicians should recognize the common signs and symptoms for CRC – changes in bowel habits, blood in stool, persistent abdominal pain – and take them seriously!
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