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!


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