Colorectal cancer on the rise in people under 40. What to know about symptoms, screenings

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Friday, October 13, 2023
Early onset colorectal cancer: What to know about symptoms
It's a troubling trend - more people under 40 are getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Here's what to know about symptoms and potentially life-saving screenings.

It's a troubling trend - more people under 40 are getting diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a type of cancer that's usually found in older adults.

"The average age patient in the United States is 66 years of age," said Oncologist Cathy Eng with Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

She is seeing young patients like 31-year-old Sonia Richard, who first noticed her colon cancer symptoms at age 27.

"I'm bleeding, I'm having bloody stool, stomachaches, fatigue, weight loss. I went to four different doctors and nobody said it was cancer, it was always, 'You're too young to have cancer,'" Richard said.

A recent cancer study showed people between 20 and 49 show the steepest increase in late-stage, early-onset colorectal cancer.

"After my colonoscopy, it turned out, I had stage three C-rectal cancer," said Richard.

"So, these are young individuals that may have just graduated from college, graduated from grad school, embarking on some other aspect of their life, or may be in school or starting a family," said Eng.

Current guidelines recommend people of average risk start colonoscopies at age 45

"Colon cancer is still quite rare in patients who are younger," said Dr. Robert Mark Krasny a radiologist with RadNet. He said family history is the biggest concern, but researchers say obesity and being sedentary also increase colon cancer risk.

You may need to get a colonoscopy at a younger age or your doctor may recommend a test to detect blood in the stool but that also has downsides.

"Unfortunately, blood in the stool can be present for a number of reasons, and in younger patients, those reasons are rarely cancer," said Krasny.

Stool DNA tests are another way to screen, but like a colonoscopy, it's also recommended for those 45 and older. Richard says no matter your age, know your options and understand your risks.

"You know your body better than anybody else, and if something feels off, push for answers," Richard said.

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