New Study Finds Early Warning Signs of Colon Cancer in Young People

Fast Facts:

  • Rates of colon cancer is growing fastest in people younger than 50 years old
  • Early-onset colon cancer is more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage than it is in people over 50
  • A new study finds that abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding and iron-deficiency anemia are early warning signs of colon cancer in young people
colon cancer with young person

“The most common symptom of colon cancer is no symptoms.” That’s what doctors have thought for years. But a new study published in a leading cancer journal suggests otherwise. At least for people younger than 50.

Doctors at Washington University School of Medicine looked at 27,000 people younger than 50. 5,000 of them had been diagnosed with colon cancer (early-onset colon cancer).

They found that people with colon cancer were more likely to report 4 symptoms in the 3 months to 2 years before being diagnosed. The symptoms included:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Iron-deficiency anemia

People who had just 1 of these symptoms were twice as likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer compared to those with none of the symptoms.

What’s even more alarming is that people with 3 or 4 symptoms were 6 times more likely to have colon cancer than those without symptoms.

Early-onset colon cancer happens in people younger than 50 years old. And half of early-onset cancer happens in people younger than the recommended colonoscopy age of 45. 

Young people are having the fastest growth of colon cancer diagnosis of any group. They also are being diagnosed at later stages, making their cancers harder to treat.

Raising awareness about early warning signs could help save lives. People whose cancer hasn’t spread to other organs have a 90% 5 year chance of survival. That rate drops to 14% if the cancer has spread. Early diagnosis means better survival and a need for less aggressive treatment.

Unfortunately, young people tend to ignore symptoms if they feel good otherwise.  Dr. Yin Cao, who headed the study, said that young people with any of these warning signs, “should at least go to their primary care doctor, and, if needed, the primary doctor will refer them to a gastroenterologist.”

Their doctor might recommend a stool test. Stool tests are easy, inexpensive and can be done at home. Their doctor could also recommend going straight to a colonoscopy if a person has severe or multiple symptoms or if they have other risk factors.

The bottom line:

The rate of colon cancer in young people is growing at an alarming rate. Young people are more likely to ignore mild symptoms if they’re otherwise feeling great. Recognizing early warning symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding and iron-deficiency anemia can help get an earlier diagnosis. Earlier diagnosis means a better chance of survival and better-tolerated treatments. If you’re under 45 and have any of these symptoms, get checked out. Check it for your loved ones. CheckIt4Andretti!

Colon Cancer Doesn’t Care How Young- or Famous- You Are!

Q: What do these celebrities have in common?

Race car driver, John Andretti (age 56). Actor, Chadwick Boseman (age 43). Actress, Jeanette Maus (age 39). And TikTok star “Enkyboys” dad, Randy Gonzalez (age 35). 

colon cancer John andretti

A: Sadly, they’re all part of a growing trend. Each of them was diagnosed with colon cancer in the prime of their lives. Each one seemed healthy. They didn’t have symptoms of colon cancer until it was late stage. They all had booming careers, people who loved them and bright futures. Colon cancer didn’t care how famous they were. Even though they fought heroically, colon cancer ultimately took their lives.

More and more young people are being diagnosed with colon cancer. The average age for being diagnosed with colon cancer is 68 for men and 72 for women. But colon cancer is being found more often in very young people.

What makes this trend so concerning is that most young people don’t even think about getting screened for colon cancer. And even more concerning is that young people are being diagnosed at a later stage and with more aggressive tumors.

Doctor’s started recognizing the steadily decreasing age at diagnosis years ago.They sounded the alarm. 

Unfortunately, colon cancer is an embarrassing topic…no one likes to talk about blood in their stool, diarrhea, bloating or gas. Especially in public and definitely not on tv.

Fortunately it’s getting easier to talk about embarrassing topics. Thanks to some very brave celebrities, people are more aware of colon cancer’s symptoms.  John Andretti, Katie Couric and Ryan Reynolds talked openly about colon cancer screening. If they can talk about it on camera, you can discuss it with your doctor.

But I’m a millennial, I’m too young to get colon cancer

Colon cancer doesn’t care how young you are. The fact is that colon cancer is being found in very young people. At more advanced stages.

Yale University recently published an article stating that people as young as 20 years old need to be aware of the signs of colon cancer!

20 years old! Let that sink in.

Doctors at Yale recommend that anyone- no matter how young (they recently diagnosed an 18 year old with colon cancer)- who has any change in bowel habits, should talk to their doctor.

Some of the symptoms to look out for:

  • Abdominal discomfort or pain that happens repeatedly or doesn’t go away
  • Bloating on a regular basis
  • Recurrent gas
  • Blood on your toilet paper or in the toilet bowl
  • Changes in bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation, dark stool or very thin stools)
  • Tiredness or weight loss (especially with any bowel symptoms)
  • Feeling full earlier than usual when eating

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t be embarrassed. Be honest with your doctor, no matter how old- or young- you are.

Keep in mind that if you have a family history of colon cancer or risk factors, you need to be on the lookout for symptoms. You should also start getting screened with a colonoscopy earlier and more often than people with no risk factors.

Actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds turned 45 this year and filmed their screening colonoscopy procedures. Even though neither one had any symptoms (that they noticed), both had precancerous polyps removed. Finding and removing polyps before they have a chance to become cancer is the most important step in preventing colon cancer.

You can watch their experience here.

If I’m young, how can I reduce my risk of colon cancer?

The good news is that you can reduce your risk of colon cancer. The younger you start, the better. 

The doctors at Yale recommend the following steps:

  • Quit smoking… or better yet, don’t start!
  • Limit your alcohol consumption. 2 drinks a day for men, 1 for women
  • Exercise regularly
  • If you’re overweight, drop a few pounds
  • Eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day (about twice as much as most of us get!)

The Bottom Line:

Colon cancer is happening in younger people, at more advanced stages. Colon cancer doesn’t care if you’re young or famous or have a bright future. The way to have the best chance of a cure is to catch it early– ideally before it even turns into cancer. Know the symptoms and don’t be embarrassed to talk about it. If your doctor recommends a colonoscopy, go ahead and get checked out. Check it for yourself. Check it for your family. CheckIt4Andretti!

How Can Bacteria Help Stop Colon Cancer?

Fast Facts

  • In order to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer you should start getting screened beginning at age 45, eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and get exercise. You should avoid alcohol, tobacco and processed foods.
  • The microbiome is made up of all the bacteria, fungi and viruses in your gut. When healthy bacteria outnumber toxic bacteria, they can reduce your risk of many diseases including colon cancer.
  • The steps to a healthy microbiome are the same ones that reduce your risk of colon cancer: eat a healthy diet, avoid unhealthy foods and habits and get some exercise. You’ll feel better and your body will thank you!

In the last article we discussed how people are getting colon cancer at a younger age. The thing many young people who get colon cancer have in common is that they have an unhealthy balance of bacteria in their guts. 

The gut microbiome is made up of all the bacteria, fungi and even viruses that live in your intestines. If a healthy microbiome can help prevent diseases like colon cancer, then how can you go about making sure you’re feeding the good bacteria and not the bad ones? Luckily, there’s been a lot of research on this topic! Let’s take a look at what doctors have to say about supporting a healthy digestive system…

Your bacteria are what you eat

One of the best ways to boost your gut health is by eating food that healthy bacteria love. Registered Dietician, Rachel Dyckman, recommends doing these 5 things to see an improvement in your microbiome right away:

  1. Eat prebiotic foods at every meal. You’ve probably heard of probiotics- they’re the supplements that contain healthy bacteria. Probiotics are what healthy bacteria like to eat. Some foods that contain a lot of prebiotics are apples, garlic, oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, artichokes and even dark chocolate.
  2. Try adding fermented foods to your diet. Sauerkraut, yogurt, pickles and kimchi are all great ways to add healthy bacteria to your gut naturally. And fermented foods also help feed the bacteria in your gut.
  3. Add plants to every meal. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables at each meal improves overall health, increases healthy gut bacteria and is associated with lower rates of disease, including cancer.
  4. Avoid Artificial sweeteners. Fake sweeteners in processed foods can damage healthy gut bacteria and are surprisingly linked to weight gain… both of which are risk factors for colon cancer. 
  5. Minimize foods that contain emulsifiers. You may have never heard of emulsifiers, but they are commonly added to processed foods to improve texture or keep liquids from separating. Read the food label. If it contains carrageenan, polysorbate, maltodextrin or methylcellulose, it’s probably not good for your gut! A simple rule to follow is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, it’s likely not good for you.

Get moving!

Many studies have shown that moderate exercise can improve your immune system. One study by the NIH showed that exercise actually improves the type of healthy bacteria that live in your gut and improves overall health. People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of many health conditions including colon cancer. And people who exercise respond better to treatment for colon cancer than those who don’t. 

Be on the lookout for sneaky dangers

Many people smoke or have a drink in order to relax. And we might reward ourselves with a donut or other sweet treat. But alcohol, tobacco and sugar -as well as processed meats- can cause inflammatory bacteria to thrive in your gut. Inflammation is one of the biggest reasons normal cells turn into cancer. Try to avoid or minimize inflammatory foods so that the healthy bacteria have a chance to survive, especially if you’re at increased risk for colon cancer.

The bottom line:

Your gut microbiome is made of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses in your intestines. If you treat them right, the good bacteria can help reduce your risk of lots of diseases, including colon cancer.  When unhealthy bacteria take over, inflammation can develop which can lead to cancer. Eat healthy foods, exercise and avoid processed foods, sugar, alcohol and tobacco to boost your microbiome health. You’ll also reduce your risk of colon cancer. And remember to get screened for colon cancer starting at age 45. Check it for your family. Checkit4Andretti!

What is the microbiome and what does it have to do with colon cancer in young people?

Fast Facts:

  • Colon cancer is being found in younger people at almost double the rate it was just 2 decades ago. It’s usually more advanced and more deadly in young people. At the same time, it’s being found less often in people over 50.
  • Colon cancer in younger people acts differently than it does in older people.
  • The bacteria in the gut (microbiome) might play a big role in getting colon cancer. This includes influencing risk factors like inflammation and obesity.

Does it seem like you know more and more people getting diagnosed with colon cancer? If it does, you’re not alone. And the people you hear about getting diagnosed are probably younger than you might expect them to be.

Early onset colorectal cancer is colon or rectal cancer found in people younger than 50 years old. Early onset colorectal cancer is on the rise around the world. In 2020, The National Cancer Institute created a think tank of experts to figure out why so many young people are getting colon cancer. They looked at the patient profiles of young people who were diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer and found they look different than older people.

Younger people with colon cancer have many things in common with each other. The things they share make their colon cancers advance quicker, harder to treat and more deadly. One of the factors they have in common is abnormal gut bacteria, known as the microbiome.

Let’s take a look at what the microbiome is and how younger people experience colorectal cancer.

What are the statistics on early onset colon cancer?

Colon cancer was considered a disease of older people just a couple decades ago. In people over 50, awareness and screening have allowed polyps to be diagnosed earlier, before they have a chance to become cancerous. The incidence of colon cancer and the death rate has gone down in this age group.

That’s not the case with younger people, however. Because screening isn’t recommended before 45 years of age, many young people don’t even think about colon cancer. Here are some concerning statistics about early onset colon cancer:

  • Colon cancer in younger people now accounts for 10% of all colon cancer cases.
  • Since 2012, colon and rectal cancer has increased almost 2% every year.
  • When colon cancer is diagnosed in younger people, it’s more advanced and harder to treat than in older people.
  • By 2030, colon cancer is expected to be the #1 cause of cancer death in people under 50 years of age.
  • People with early onset colorectal cancer share several factors in common.

What do young people with colon cancer have in common?

Scientists researching early onset colon cancer have found people share three things in common that are interrelated:

  1. Diet: people who get early onset colon cancer tend to eat more processed food. They eat fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Highly processed meats and fat are associated with higher rates of many types of cancer, including colon cancer. People who eat more calories from highly processed foods tend to be overweight or obese, which is also a risk factor for many cancers. In young people with colon cancer, over half were overweight and 17% were obese. Sugar, especially from processed food, has been shown to lead to chronic inflammation, insulin resistance and damage to the gut lining. Sugar is also thought to feed cancer cells once they develop.
  2. Inflammation: Many people with cancer have a chronic inflammatory condition. Over 50% of young people with colon cancer have a chronic inflammatory gut condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis. Diet and obesity can make inflammation worse.
  3. Gut bacteria: Scientists have found that bacterial toxins from human intestines can cause colon cancer in mice. Those same toxins can cause inflammation. Overweight and obese people often have abnormal gut bacteria. 

Diet affects weight. Weight affects inflammation. Inflammation affects gut bacteria, which affects weight. Together, they can have an impact on developing early onset colon cancer.

So exactly, what is the microbiome?

You might hear the term “microbiome” a lot these days. Microbiome means all the bacteria found in your gastrointestinal tract, or gut. Doctors have calculated that there are more bacteria cells in your gut than all other types of cells in the rest of your entire body combined. 

These bacteria can help you break down food, make helpful chemicals and fight off bad bacteria and yeast. Doctors have even found that gut bacteria make neurotransmitters that can affect your mood and happiness. But, when the gut bacteria get out of balance, unhealthy bacteria can take over. 

How can gut bacteria reduce the risk of getting colon cancer?

Your gut is your first line of internal defense against many types of disease. A healthy gut microbiome can fight off bad bacteria that might make you sick. A healthy microbiome is also important for improving risk factors of colon and rectal cancer, including:

  • Improved chronic gut inflammation
  • Less bacterial toxin production in the gut
  • Healthier weight
  • Improved nutrient processing and absorption, including vitamins
  • Gut bacteria can impact how effective chemotherapy is

In our next article, we’ll talk about what you can do to make your microbiome as healthy as possible.

The bottom line:

Colorectal cancer is on the rise in younger people. It’s on track to be the most common cause of cancer death in people under 50 by 2030. Early onset colorectal cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage and is harder to treat than when it’s found in older people. The common factors seen with early onset colon cancer include diet, inflammation and gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome can improve inflammation, weight, chemotherapy effectiveness and nutrient availability. Routine screening isn’t recommended before the age of 45, but if you have any symptoms, talk to your doctor about getting checked right away. Check it for your family. Check it for your peace of mind. Checkit4Andretti! 

7 Colonoscopy Myths and Fast Facts

Fast Facts:

  • There’s lots of different reasons why people don’t want to get screened for colon cancer. But everyone has the reason why they need to just go ahead and do it: someone loves you!
  • Most cases of colon cancer happen in people with no risk factors and it’s happening in younger people.
  • Screening for colon cancer can be done in many ways, including in the privacy of your own home. You need to talk to your doctor to find out what test is best for you and when you should get screened. The rule of thumb is that everyone between 45-75 should be screened. Earlier if you have risk factors.

A lot of people have the idea that getting screened for colon cancer is messy or embarrassing. Or kind of gross. Some people may think they don’t need to get screened because they are perfectly healthy. Or maybe they just don’t have any risk factors. Whatever your reason for not getting screened, it’s probably based on some misinformation. Today we’re going to look at some common myths about getting screened for the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the US. Then we’ll look at why those myths are wrong.  Hopefully, you’ll recognize one of these as the reason you haven’t gotten screened and you’ll change your mind. (If you want to know more, click on the blue Fast fact below each myth for a link that will take you to an article with additional information.)

  1. MYTH: A colonoscopy is the only way to screen for colon cancer.

Fast fact: There are lots of ways to screen for colon cancer. Some can even be done in your own home and sent to a lab for testing. If you’re between 45-75 years old, or if you have risk factors, talk to your doctor about which test you should be getting.

  1. MYTH: I don’t have any risk factors for colon cancer, so I don’t need to get screened.

Fast fact: Over 75% of people who get colon cancer don’t have any risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the best way to reduce your risk of getting colon cancer is to start getting screened beginning at age 45. You’ll need to keep getting screened on a regular basis, depending on which test you’re using

  1. MYTH: There’s really nothing I can do to keep from getting colon cancer.

Fast fact: The American Society of Colorectal Surgeons say that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of getting colon cancer. Eat a healthy diet with lots of veggies, quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight. Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

  1.  MYTH: Colon cancer is a disease older people get.

Fast fact: Colon cancer has doubled in people under 50 since 1990. Not only that, but it’s being diagnosed at a more advanced stage. Doctor’s don’t really know why this is happening. If you have any risk factors, talk to your doctor about getting screened earlier. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor right away to get tested.

  1.  MYTH: Having a colonoscopy is painful, messy and embarrassing!

Fast fact: Doctor’s don’t have a way to make you feel less embarrassed. But they can definitely make you comfortable for your colonoscopy. An anesthesia provider will make sure you’re sedated and pain-free. New “bowel preps” are much easier to tolerate- and less messy!- than in the past. A little bit of embarrassment is a small price to pay to find a polyp before it turns into cancer!

  1.  MYTH: A polyp means I have colon cancer.

FAST FACT: A polyp is a benign (not cancer) finger-like piece of tissue. Some polyps could turn into cancer, but most don’t. Polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy and checked under a microscope to find out if there are any signs of cancer. If you’re between the ages of 45-75, talk to your doctor about getting screened.

  1. MYTH: I don’t have any symptoms so I can’t have colon cancer.

FAST FACT:  Polyps don’t usually cause any symptoms. And colon cancer doesn’t cause symptoms early on. If you wait until you have symptoms to get checked, you might have missed the chance to find a polyp before it becomes cancerous. Get screened starting at age 45 or earlier if you have risk factors.

The bottom line:

John Andretti’s 60th birthday would have been March 12. And March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. The CheckIt4Andretti Foundation’s mission is to honor John’s memory by helping others beat colon cancer. Watch this video busting colon cancer myths from University of Chicago Medicine. 

Most reasons people give for not getting screened are based on misinformation and not understanding what’s available today. Get the information you need by talking to your doctor. Check it for someone you love. Check it for someone who loves you. CheckIt4Andretti.

Community Care Clinic of Rowan County, Inc Annual Report 2022

“At age 53, John Andretti was the picture of health – still fit from a career in Motorsports, swearing he would always race again and never officially retiring. He was the last person anyone expected to receive a cancer diagnosis, but in January of 2017, his colonoscopy came back positive for cancerous polyps. His diagnosis made him face the decision of either fighting the disease privately or announcing it to the public. He decided that, although this diagnosis is devastating, he would use it to bring awareness to the disease, advocating for proper screening and early detection,” reads the home page of the Checkit4Andretti Foundation. Sadly, John died in January 2020, but his family continues his legacy through the foundation and advocacy work.

In December of 2021, the clinic learned of this new foundation and it’s interest in partnering to provide screening colonoscopies to low-income, uninsured adults. After much hard work and red tape, Nancy Andretti, the wife of John, reached out and gave the clinic the green light to send eligible patients to Northeast Digestive Health and Dr. Vinay Patel in March of 2022. Dr. Amy Wilson, the clinic’s medical director was thrilled. “Having the ability to refer patients for screening colonoscopies is amazing! With cancer, especially colon cancer, if caught early, it can be treated and even cured. This is a wonderful, life-saving opportunity for our patients, she says.” Dr. Wilson and her medical assistants, DeAnna Turner and Caroline Parrott, got busy identifying those patients that were at greatest risk – those with symptoms and those with family history. During the nine months of 2022, 30 patients received free screening colonoscopies. Ten of those were donated by Northeast Digestive Health and 20 were paid for by the Checkit4Andretti Foundation. One cancer was detected and treated. “We have long desired a way for our patients to get colon cancer screenings,” Wilson said. “This just gives us another tool in our prevention toolbox.”

In 2022, the estimated number of new cases of colon and rectal cancers, collectively known as colorectal cancer, was 150,030. In 2021, the American Cancer Society lowered its recommended age for regular colorectal screenings from 50 to 45 years old. “I’d love to see it lowered to 40,” says Nancy. “John wasn’t given three years to live, but he did. During that time, he endured surgery, two rounds of chemotherapy and experimental treatment before the cancer spread to his liver and lungs. This disease is so pervasive,” she says. It is estimated that 52,580 deaths (28,400 men and 24,180 women) from this disease will occur in the United States this year. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined, according to the American Cancer Society.

Of course, the clinic patients who were able to receive these screenings also knew of their risk factors. When medical assistant, DeAnna Turner asked a few of the patients about their experience, these were some of the answers: “It meant the world to me to have received a free colonoscopy. It meant a lot because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without their [Checkit4Andretti Foundation] help. And if I had waited with the number of polyps I had, I can only imagine how much worse it could have been.” The patient continued, “It makes me feel good about myself to have completed an important health screening. If it was never offered to me, I wouldn’t have done it.” Another patient said, “It meant everything to have the colonoscopy because I wanted to make sure everything was alright. It was a blessing.” and ” I thought it would be a hassle and stressful paying for it, but I did not have to worry about that. I am grateful.”

“It was a pleasure to visit the Community Care Clinic of Rowan County. Dr. Wilson and the staff are providing great care in a warm and inviting office. I was impressed with the variety of services they can provide to their patients including dental, pharmacy and general medical care. We are thrilled to partner with the Community Care Clinic to provide colonoscopies for patients in need through our partnership with Dr. Patel and Northeast Digestive Health,” said Dr. Olivia Andretti during a December 2022 visit.

Read the full report here!