Fast Facts:

  • The number of people under the age of 45 diagnosed with colorectal cancer is going up more than 1% every year. A person under 45 is twice as likely to get colon cancer as a person over 70.
  • Colon cancer is now the #1 cause of cancer death in men under the age of 50, and the #2 cause of cancer death in women in that age group. Young people and their doctors often ignore the subtle warning signs of colorectal cancer.
  • Screening tests like FIT test, virtual colonoscopy and colonoscopy detect colon cancer early, while it’s still curable.  
  • Most people under 45 don’t know to ask for a screening test unless they’re aware of their family history and know the worrisome signs of colorectal cancer.


You might not realize it right now, but your life will most likely be touched by colorectal cancer. Colon cancer statistics are alarming- and they’re only getting worse, especially for younger people. The American Cancer Society states that about 1 in 25 Americans will be diagnosed with colon cancer in their lifetime. That rate is going down in people over 45 because of awareness and screening. Sadly, the rate is going up in younger people. And colon cancer is more deadly in people under 45. Let’s take a look at what’s happening.

Why is colorectal cancer more deadly in younger people?

We usually think of “older people” as being more frail or less healthy than “young people.” It seems logical they’d have a harder time fighting off colorectal cancer. But the truth of the matter is that younger people, under 45 years old, have an increased risk of getting colon cancer than people over 70. Each year these statistics have gotten better for older adults and worse for younger people. Why?

There are several reasons why the number of diagnoses and the mortality rate (the number of people who die) has gone down in people over 45. Some of the reasons doctors cite include:

  • Routine screening tests starting at age 45 catches cancer early so that it’s more curable.
  • Routine screening tests starting at age 45 find polyps so that they can be removed. They don’t have a chance to turn into cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is better now than 20 years ago. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy can be used in combination to target different types of colorectal cancer.

There are probably other factors at play. All cancers are a result of complex interactions between a person’s genetics, food and environment.

Why are so many young people getting colon cancer?

Doctors aren’t really sure why more young people are getting all types of colorectal cancer. Some of the factors that increase the risk include:

  • Eating a diet high in processed foods and processed red meats 
  • Increased rates of obesity 
  • Not getting enough exercise  
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcohol use 
  • Environmental exposure to chemicals
  • Unhealthy Gut bacteria

Another thing to take into account is that people under 45 aren’t advised to get routine screening tests. Unless a young person is aware of the warning signs of colon cancer, and their family history, they won’t be aware of their own risk of colon cancer. That means they won’t know when to talk to their doctor. Remember, screening is one of the major reasons colon cancer rates are dropping in people over 50.

So what are the signs of colorectal cancer in young people?

Signs of colorectal cancer in young people are vague and easily ignored. Oftentimes, if a 30-something tells their doctor of nondescript abdominal symptoms, they’re diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome or a similar GI complaint. Most of the time, it’s not cancer. But the risk of being misdiagnosed can be devastating.

Signs of colon cancer in people under 45 include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling bloated all the time

If you have any of these symptoms, and they don’t get better on their own or with treatment, you should talk to your doctor and insist on a colonoscopy. 

Another tell-tale symptom of colon cancer is having narrow stools. Pencil thin bowel movements, especially if you have any of the other symptoms of colon cancer, can be a red flag. You should talk to your doctor immediately if you notice this symptom.

The Bottom Line

Colon cancer is a preventable and treatable disease. It’s being caught at an earlier stage in people over 45 because of improving screening programs. But the rate is increasing in young people. And the stage they’re being diagnosed is more advanced than in older adults. Young people need to be aware of the signs of colorectal cancer. They need to be aware of their own family and genetic history, too. And they need to talk to their doctor if they think they need to be checked out. Check it for yourself. Check it for your family. CheckIt4Andretti.

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