Study Shows Rise in Colorectal Cancer Rates in Young and Middle-Aged Adults

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute finds colorectal cancer incidence rates are rising in young adults, including people in their 20s and 30s.

“Population studies across the United States are showing increased rates of colon and rectal cancer in individuals younger than 50 years of age,” said James McLoughlin, MD, a surgical oncologist at The University of Tennessee Medical Center.

 The peak age of diagnosis of colon cancer is typically around age 60, making the results of this study a surprise to the medical community. The research, done by Rebecca Siegel and her team at the American Cancer Society, reports that the rates of colon and rectal cancer are increasing in those that are 20 and 30 years old.

 The overall rates are still low, but the trend is that the numbers of new cases in these age groups are going up over the last few decades.

 “One of the first signs of this type of cancer is blood in the stool or toilet water,” said McLoughlin. “People should know what to look for. Blood can be red or can make the stool look black.”

 Further, prolonged changes in stool size should be brought to the attention of your primary care doctor. It is not uncommon for those with colon or rectal cancer to describe their stools as pencil thin and requiring greater straining to produce a bowel movement.

 The good news is, there are ways to reduce your chances of getting this potentially deadly cancer.

 “Many previous research studies have connected our diet with colon and rectal cancer,” said McLoughlin. Decreasing the amount of high fat foods and increasing your fiber intake appears to decrease the chance of developing a colon or rectal cancer.

 “It’s important to note that the overall rates in colon and rectal cancer in this age rage remain low,” said McLoughlin. “But changes in bowel habits should be investigated especially if blood is visible.”

 The study is available to read for free: Colorectal Cancer Incidence Patterns in the United States, 1974–2013

 March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about colorectal cancer, including programs and treatment options at The University of Tennessee Medical Center Cancer Institute, visit our website