Young and at an Increased Risk of Colorectal Cancer?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Colorectal cancers are the third most common types of cancer for U.S. adults, with the exception of skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. It is estimated that nearly 50,000 people in the U.S. will die this year from colorectal cancer and there will be almost 150,000 new cases.

Ninety-one percent of new colorectal cancer cases are identified in those over the age of fifty. Because of this, widespread screening for this age group is recommended. Colonoscopy is the primary screening test to identify precancerous polyps in the bowel which can be removed before they can grow and spread. Widespread screening and awareness campaigns have resulted in decreased colorectal cancer rates in the U.S. for over a decade.

Unfortunately, people under the age of 50 do not get that same screening unless they have risks factors for colorectal cancer such as a family history, chronic inflammatory bowel disease or a predisposing genetic condition. This lack of screening provides ample opportunity for benign polyps to become cancerous and for early cancers to grow and spread.

According to a Los Angeles Times health report earlier this week, the incidence of colorectal cancers in people under the age of 50 has increased 17% over the last decade. Are you or someone you love at an increased risk?

The colon is the longest part of the large intestine and is shaped like an inverted "U". There are four portions to the colon the ascending, transverse, descending and the sigmoid colon. As digestive matter travels through the intestines, the lining of the colon absorbs water, vitamins and minerals. The rectum is the last several inches of the large intestine where undigested material called feces or stool is stored before passing out of the body.

There are a variety of problems that can arise in the large intestine including conditions such as colorectal polyps, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease. While it is wonderful that the overall colorectal cancer rates have been declining for more than a decade, it is concerning that rates are on the rise for younger adults.

New findings published in the June issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention found that colorectal cancer rate increases are different based on gender and ethnicity for those between the ages of 20 and forty-nine. White men saw a 21% increase in colorectal cancer rates over the last decade while white women saw a 28% increase. Latino women did not see a significant change, however, latino men saw a 33% increase. Although there was no increase in colorectal cancer rates for African American men or women, the incidence of colorectal cancers is already higher in this group than in white or Latino men and women in the 20-49 age group.

Dr. Clifford Ko reported similar findings in a review of data from 2004. He found an increase in U.S. colorectal cancer rates in those between the ages of 20 and thirty nine. His findings along with those of this more current review suggest that questionable signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer in younger individuals should not be ignored. Those under the age of 39 that experience bleeding not related to hemorrhoids should undergo advanced screenings such as a colonoscopy.

Researchers speculate that part of the cause of the increased rates of colorectal cancers in younger Americans could be due to changes in lifestyle. Research conducted by The George Institute for International Health in Australia, recently looked at modifiable lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer such as diet, physical activity, presence of diabetes, smoking habits and alcohol consumption. They found that individuals with risk factors such as smoking, diabetes and obesity had a 20 percent greater risk of developing colorectal cancer. This is about the same risk as previous studies for risk related to high intakes of processed or red meat. They also found that physical activity lowered the risk of developing colorectal cancers while consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables provided little evidence of increased protection. The most surprising findings related to those that regularly consumed alcohol. Individuals that had more than seven drinks per week had a 60 percent greater risk of developing colorectal cancers than those that were non-drinkers.

The bottom line - Small positive lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer as well as many other illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. This is important for everyone but especially for those between the ages of 20 and 49 that have seen an increase in colorectal cancer rates over the last decade.

If you smoke, make a commitment to gradually cut back on your way to quitting completely. If you are working to lower your weight, keep at it with new resolve. Continue to include fruits, vegetables and whole grains daily while limiting your intake of red and processed meats in favor of other protein sources. If exercise is something you do because you have to but isn't something you enjoy, try new things to find what brings you joy in exercise. Perhaps most importantly, take an inventory of your alcohol consumption paying special attention to serving sizes as well as the number of servings you consume. Work to decrease your intake especially if you are consuming more than seven drink servings in a week.

Do you think young people between the ages of 20 and 39 believe they are at an increased risk of colorectal cancers? What can be done to increase awareness?

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I had cancer at the age of 14. It was in my small intestines, on my appendix, an ovary and the bottom of my stomach. I am now 57. I was very lucky. I had my first colonoscopy a few years ago. It wasn't fun. The prep is awful and it made me sick. I did wake up when they got caught on some scar tissue. I even had some pain for a couple of weeks afterwards due to the scar tissue. However, when the doctor tells me it's time for my next one, I will gladly do it to hear those wonderful words, "You're all clear". Report
My mom was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2002 at the age of 59. She went to the doctor because of a small amount of blood and was told it was probably hemorrhoids. She didn't accept a probably and the doctor scheduled a colonoscopy to "ease her mind"
She caught it very early and went through chemo, radiation, surgery and another round of "just in case" chemo and is now almost 7 years cancer free. Unfortunately, although it was small, it was in a spot that made the surgery irreversible and she has to deal with a colostomy bag, but, she's able to do just about everything she could before (just has to watch how much she lifts)
I had my first colonoscopy this year. It was horrible, the prep was disgusting, I woke up TWICE during the procedure and I'd do it again every single year if I had to, just to hear those wonderful words "you're all clear" or to catch anything that shouldn't be there as early as I can Report
Hello, Last September, I was rushed to the Emergency Room with Stomach pain, I was Third Stage Colon Cancer with no symptons, I was 44 years old. Thank God I'm Cancer Free Today after having 4 feet of my Colon removed and going thru six months of chemo. I was being treated for Anemia and my Hematologist ended up being my Oncologist. We didn't think I had cancer, I never had any stomach pain. Report
My Husband and I just had them (colonoscopies) done a little while ago. The results were great.
This article is SO timely!!! I know a big reason is because of Farrah Facetts passing from Rectal cancer. I am EVER so glad she did that 2 hour program about her experience in living with this horrible diagnosis, and the suffering she endured. YET, she WAS in the age group that is common to develope these cancers...However, I had a patient here recently , 34 with diverticulitis, THAT can lead easily to colon cancer if not treated. 34!!! I am floored , as a nurse, at how many YOUNGER people in their 20's and 30's are coming into the hospital with diagnosises' involving the bowel. What is going on? One thing for sure, is their DIETS I am sure. HI fat, JUNK food diets, is catching up with them. I would encourage EVERYONE to get their blood tested for Vitamin D. I have been reading that it could be helpful in prevention of this disease. As for having a colonoscopy at 20?! Will insurances conver that? I do hope to see some real changes for the sake of our young people....

VERY good provocotive post. Thanks..... Report
Oh look, look - another disease that's working its way down the age ladder as Americans eat less and less well and exercise less and less.... Time to wake up, guys.... Thanks for SP for doing the legwork and spreading the word. Report
I don't think young people are aware enough that this can happen,or they just don't realize it happening. I have a colonoscopy done every 3 years, because of being at risk. My Dad died of colon/rectal cancer, when he was 82. His Dad died of stomach cancer. It's far better to have the test done, than what could happen. He didn't have warning symptoms, until it was advanced. This is why it's so important to have early testing done. Report
One of the great things about today's society is that there is so much communication about healthy lifestyle and about taking control of our own health. Yes, when young it is easy to think we are invincible but if we don't feel 100%, no matter what age, we are much more likely to get help sooner rather than later. One of the problems with cancer is that it can sneak up without any side effects until too late, so if there is any history in the family of serious illness it is wise to seek any tests that will predict if things are going wrong. Report
I recall a few years ago Katie Couric (sp) participated in an on-air colorectal exam that increased awareness amongst us baby-boomers. Maybe a show that appeals to young adults on MTV or sit-coms like Gossip Girl, or Scrubs could increase awareness for that population of folks. Report
My dad died of colon cancer when I was in high school (he was 46). I started getting colonoscopies at 30. The good thing about colon cancer is that it is the one type that can be completely prevented. If you get routine colonoscopies every 3-5 years they will remove any polyps and by doing that they are removing anything that will become cancerous. Yea, its no fun but one day of no fun every 5 years is totally worth preventing a longer, yuckier, and possibly lethal battle with cancer. Just do it! Report
I had an Aunt who passed away from colon cancer, and 2 sisters who have had pre-cancerous polyps removed from their colons......I just had my first colonoscopy 2 weeks ago and thank goodness there was no cancer....but they did find besides the diverticulitis that I was diagnosed with 6 years ago, that I also have ulcerative colitis which I will be having surgery to remove the sigmoid colon on Wednesday........the reason, too many years without enough fiber :( Report
I was 16 when I had my first colonoscopy and then had the upper GI tested a month or so later. They didn't find anything until 10 years later when my large intestines were in horrible condition due to being misdiagnosed for so long. They found out I have Crohn's, it has been almost 3 years and I still have 2 bad areas which could require surgery if they do not improve. For me, smoking made it worse (I quit 2 years ago) as does a lot of veggies, fiber, dairy, etc. Makes it hard for me, being 28, to get my daily requirements.
Thanks for the great information. We were just discussing this very subject at work. I will definitely pass it on. Report
What a shame about Farrah Fawcett. My father's father died of colon cancer at age 61, in 1978. Back then, colonoscopies were not a required test. He was dead three months after diagnosis. My father and mother and I are now tested regularly, and my siblings (who are all in their 30s) will be tested once they turn 40. This is a serious disease that deserves serious attention. I am glad to read this article. Thanks! Report
My mother just died after a 7 year fight with colon cancer. She was 60. Her memorial will be held this coming Sunday.

At 40, my brother decided to have his first colonoscopy. I will do the same. Report
People are kidding themselves if they don't think young people can get colon cancer. I did!!!! and I was only 12 They believe when it started. I had a huge section of my colon removed when I was 15 due to colon cancer. My mom had me to the Dr. all the time for pain, but every time I was told there wasn't a thing wrong with me. I finally went to New Orleans for the summer and during one of my attacks my sister took me to the hospital. It saved my life through the grace of God. Report
I was reading an article in my daily dietetics news yesterday about this. Some people believe that the increase may be due to the fortification of bread products with folic acid. Apparently, it has decreased birth defects, BUT it may have the unfortunate side effect in some people of fueling the colon cancer fire. (when folate was first discovered, it was given to kids with leukemia because they were hoping it would help them grow new cells, but it helped the cancer cells grow instead.) In fact, some cancer treatment drugs are folate antagonists - they block folate so the cancer cells can't grow and reproduce. Interesting thought. Report
I worry about this type of cancer a lot. All of my mothers immediate family who have passed away have died of cancers in the digestive tracts. I'm scared that it is the faith that will befall the rest of my family (including my mother, sisters and myself). I have a healthy enough diet most of the time, I'm a vegetarian and try to look after myself but at times I probably to drink too much. I'm 27 and Irish and drinking is still very much part of my social scene. After reading this tho I've have a fear for my husband who would eat red meat most days and often drinks more than 7 drinks in a week. I will have to bring this to his attention but he's stubborn and set in his ways and thinks I'm a bit off the wall with 'health and fitness' stuff. Report
My Dad died of colon cancer at 52, that was 30 yrs ago. This has made me very aware of the importance of colon health and eating lots of fiber. I had my first colonoscopy 2 yrs ago at 46, because of my history. They removed several noncancerous polyps. Awareness and education are always a good thing! Report
I'm only 31 and I have to get a colonoscopy next month, so this is very serious for some. Report
Hopefully Farrah Fawcett's death due to a related cancer will increase people's awareness and save lives. It's not something I thought I'd be at risk for - even in my 40s - thanks SparkPeople for bringing it to our attention! Report
I knew a girl who was between 17 and 19 (not sure of exact age, but she was still in high school), who had to have surgery for this type of cancer. I was in shock since, at the time, I thought it was predominantly an older-male sort of thing. Report
My mom died of colon cancer so I am supposed to be high risk. I try to stay active and eat healthy to avoid the same fate. Report
Just another good reason to encourage people to either not drink alcohol, or to drink in moderation! Report
I've been worried about this issue for some time now when I developed symptoms. I have gone to see various doctors but they all determined that the symptoms are due to another issue. I am definitely going to pick up the phone and schedule a colonoscopy asap! Report
I don't know if I'm still consider "young" at 26, but I have often concerned myself with the health problems and diseases I could get. My friends and I are trying to take much better care of ourselves. I can understand how teens tend to think they are invincible. But getting into your 20's really turns up the dial of concern! Report
great blog i guess the younger you start to take care of your self the better off you will be Report
Thank you for this article.
It helped confirm alot in my life at this time with my alcohol consumption Report
my best friend's husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at the age of 23. one of the scariest things is that it went undiagnosed for so long because it's so rare to occur at such a young age. make sure that if you have any unusual symptoms you have them thouroughly checked out by a doctor and don't be afraid to ask for second and third opinions if you don't feel comfortable with your diagnosis. Report
I agree with most on here that young people especially those in their 20's tend to think they are invincible. Looking back I wish I took better care of myself. Prevention should start at this age!!!!! Report
I am 24 and wouldn't have thought of this being something that I should think about until this article. I definately keep track of where my health is and if I would have known that is something that I should be keeping an eye out for I definately would have. I will now. Saying that though if I noticed anything unusual in my stools I probably would have already gone to the doctor for it. I'd rather be safe then sorry. Also every list that has check ups by age does not say anything about having your colon checked out until you are at least in your 30s or 40s, at least! Report
Young people should pay attention to any changes in their body - particularly their bowels. I was 21 when I had my first colonoscopy due to bleeding. Numerous adenomatous polyps were found and I have since been diagnosed with polyposis. I have no risk factors and no family history. If I hadn't paid attention to a little bleeding I would be dead now. Right now colonoscopies and resections every six months are keeping my disease in check. Be vigiliant about your health! Report any changes to your doctor regardless of if you think it's nothing! Report
That's why I have made a conscious effort to increase my fiber intake. Thanks to SparkPeople, I can track it easily! Report
I think young people think that things like this are so far removed from them that they are not likely to listen to much about it. Unless the message is communicated in a way that is targeted directly at this age group, they are not likely to heed it.

My father died of colorectal cancer at the age of 86. I don't think he ever had a colonoscopy until a problem was discovered.

Education for the young and the not so young is necessary to make folks aware. I appreciate that you brought into the play the importance of diet and lifestyle choices in this regard. Report
My Dad has colon cancer, so the risk of it is real to me, he was also in his thirties when diagnosed, and ended up having to have a colonostopy done. I don't think most people are aware. Report
there is a big risk factor in my family and i encourage my children to get tested .
and i don;t think young adults worry about it unlesss it is in the family history.
bj Report
I think young people don't worry a whole lot about any kind of disease or illness. I know I didn't until I was older! Articles like this one can increase awareness, as well as the medical field bringing it more attention. My mother died of colon cancer, so I know how deadly it can be, with very few symptoms. Report
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