Colon cancer is on the rise in adults under 50, but new research has identified four key symptoms linked to early onset. New research has identified key symptoms linked to an increased risk of early colorectal cancer in young adults. Symptoms to watch out for are abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and iron deficiency anemia.
Risk factors for colon cancer may include a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a personal or family history of colorectal polyps, or a genetic predisposition. A person’s health and eating habits or lifestyle can also play a role. Young adults can reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, getting colon screening tests when recommended, and considering genetic testing. In recent years, colorectal cancer has almost doubled among young adults. Researchers are currently investigating the reasons for this increased risk.
According to a recent study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, four signs and symptoms have been associated with an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer in young adults. We speak of early onset when cancer is diagnosed before the age of 50.
Colorectal cancer is on the rise in young adults
The incidence of colon and rectal cancer in people under 55 has almost doubled over the past 20 years, from 11% to 20%. Risk factors associated with increased incidence of colon cancer in young adults include:
a family history of colon and rectal cancer in a first-degree relative (i.e., parent, child, or sibling) with no identifiable genetic mutation
high cholesterol or triglycerides
increased alcohol consumption
Colon cancer is also more common in men than in women.
Study of colorectal cancer in young adults
They found four key signs and symptoms in subjects under 50, between three months and two years before their diagnosis:
anorectal bleeding (dark or bright red blood in the toilet bowl, on the toilet paper, or in the stool)
iron deficiency anemia (with or without chronic fatigue).
The researchers also found that having any of these symptoms nearly doubled the risk of developing colon cancer. Two symptoms increase the risk by more than 3.5 times and three or more increase the risk by more than 6.5 times.
Symptoms (subjective experiences) are not risk factors for colon cancer. Symptoms (subjective experiences) and signs (objective findings) may indicate the presence of polyps or cancer of the colon or rectum, and should not be ignored if they occur and persist. Other symptoms of early-stage colon cancer may include a significant change in bowel habits (i.e. difficulty with bowel movements or small or narrow stools) or unexplained weight loss .
Further research in young adults is still needed
Although the study results provide compelling information about early-onset colon cancer, more research in young adults is needed to support these findings. Although some factors, including environmental contributions and obesity, have been suggested, they alone do not seem to explain the significant impact we are witnessing. Further research is needed to better understand the complex interplay of factors contributing to this concerning trend.
Other risks associated with colon cancer
A person’s health, diet or lifestyle can play a role in the risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. These risk factors may include:
diabetes and insulin resistance
excessive consumption of processed foods and red meat (more than twice a week)
alcohol consumption (more than one drink per day)
Other risk factors for developing colorectal cancer can determine whether a person benefits from earlier detection. These factors are:
a personal or family history of colorectal adenomatous polyps, cancer, or polyposis syndromes (familial adenomatous polyposis)
a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the colon, such as chronic ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (longer duration increases risk)
a history of abdominal or pelvic radiation therapy
history of cystic fibrosis
acromegaly (excess pituitary growth hormone)
history of kidney transplantation (on high-dose immunosuppressive therapy)
genetic mutation increasing the risk (eg Lynch syndrome).
Reduce the risk of colon cancer
Young adults and older adults who are concerned about developing colon cancer can take steps to minimize their risk.
Colon cancer screening
Colon cancer screening from the age of 45 is essential for early detection and prevention. Polyps containing cancerous cells can remain in the colon wall not only for months, but also for years. Some people with colorectal cancer do not always have symptoms, or their symptoms may resemble other gastrointestinal problems. Once severe symptoms appear, the cancer has usually progressed to a more advanced stage. This is one of the many reasons people should know their family’s medical history and let their doctor know if anything is wrong. If the symptoms could be due to colorectal cancer, there are screening tests that can find the cause
In high-risk populations, screening for colon cancer involves colonoscopy or CT colonography (a virtual colonoscopy performed using a CT scanner). Average-risk populations may also benefit from colonoscopy or CT colonoscopy, or start with a stool-based screening test, which may lead to a recommendation for colonoscopy. Also, people with a family history of colorectal cancer may choose to be screened ten years before the age at which the family member’s cancer was diagnosed.
Healthy eating and physical exercise
In addition to following recommended screening guidelines, experts recommend:
to follow a balanced diet
to exercise regularly
maintain a healthy weight
limit alcohol consumption
The majority of people with colorectal cancer do not have inherited conditions that indicate a higher risk. For most people, making healthy lifestyle choices and getting screened as recommended by their doctor are the most important things they can do to reduce their risk of colorectal cancer.