Young adult woman
August 25, 2017 | by Ulrik Wallin MD, PhD, MS

Recent research from the American Cancer Society shows colon and rectal cancer rates are rising in people under age 50. People born in the 1990s (ages 18 to 27) have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer when compared to those born in the 1950s. It is unclear what the cause is for the increased incidence of colorectal cancer in young adults, and further studies are needed to evaluate this. There is some evidence that lifestyle choices might play a role in the increase. Obesity and sedentary lifestyles can increase the risk of cancer, as can a diet high in saturated fats, sugars, and grains.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. among both men and women. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women, and second leading cause in men. Fortunately, it is among the most preventable types of cancer. A colonoscopy can lead to early detection of colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps. By removing precancerous polyps during a colonoscopy development of colorectal cancer can be prevented. Although 90 percent of colon cancer patients are over age 50, young and middle-aged adults should monitor for symptoms, which include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Feeling of incomplete bowel movement
  • Abdominal pain
  • Decrease in appetite

If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about the possibility of screening for colon cancer. For those who have a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease, starting screening by age 50 is recommended. Early detection often leads to a cure. There is some evidence suggesting the risk of colorectal cancer can be reduced by doing the following:

  • Eating more vegetables
  • Eating less red meat and other processed meat (lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, etc.)
  • Exercising regularly
  • Reducing belly fat
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake

The incidence rate of colorectal cancer is predicted to continue to increase in the upcoming years in young adults. It is important to be aware of any unusual changes in your body's function and talk with your doctor. Early detection is the key to maintaining your overall health and treating a life-threatening disease like colon cancer.