The symptoms of colon cancer in young adults are no different than that of the general population. In most cases, symptoms are not apparent in the earliest stages. However, persistent changes and bleeding during bowel movements are common indicators of colon cancer and should be addressed immediately with your doctor.
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Colon or colorectal cancer is cancer that originates anywhere within the rectum or colon. In many instances, colon cancer develops in polyps. Polyps are growths that can occur within the lining of the colon or rectum.
Over time some polyps can become malignant depending on the type of polyp involved, referred to as colon cancer. Routine colonoscopies can aid in the detection and removal of potentially precancerous polyps.
Colon cancer was thought to affect mostly the aging population. Screening recommendations for colon cancer do not occur until most people reach their mid to late 40s. However, in recent decades the number of young people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s affected by colon cancer has been on the rise.
While colon cancer remains relatively uncommon and affects only a small portion of the population, it is worthwhile to know the signs of the disease and when to see your doctor.
Cancer incidence in young adults is much lower than in the older population. However, cancer in young adults can happen. Reports indicate that nearly 90,000 people between 15 and 40 will receive a cancer diagnosis yearly.
Common types of cancers in young adults include:
There is no one reason that the medical community can pinpoint why colon cancer is on the rise. However, diet and environment are suspected of playing the biggest role in the rising trends of colon cancer cases in younger demographics.
The rate of colon cancer appears to increase with age, with only 2 per 100,000 people ages 20-24 and 3.3 per 100,000 people ages 25-29 diagnosed between 2015 and 2019. However, in recent years, there appears to be a drastic rise in cases reported amongst significantly younger people.
In 2020, it was estimated that approximately 18,000 people younger than 50 would receive a colon cancer diagnosis in the U.S.
The symptoms associated with colon cancer can develop slowly over time. In the beginning stages of colon cancer, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience little to no noticeable differences in their bodies. As the disease progresses, it is more likely that an individual will begin to notice subtle changes and concerning issues that something is wrong.
Common symptoms of colon cancer can include:
Bleeding during bowel movements
Weight loss without a known cause
Feeling like you were unable to complete a bowel movement
While colon cancer may not be something that most young adults worry about when it comes to their health, it is something you should keep in mind if you notice any changes in your digestive health. Stool changes, whether it be persistent diarrhea or constipation over a few weeks, should warrant a visit to your doctor.
Additionally, if you see any narrowing of the stool, blood in the stool, or blood stains when wiping, it warrants further investigation as to the cause. While these symptoms could indicate various other gastrointestinal conditions, they are also possibly related to colon cancer.
Talking to your doctor and having colon cancer screening is the only way to know if the symptoms are caused by cancer in the colon or something else.
A colon cancer diagnosis can occur to anyone, but certain population demographics are at higher risk of developing the disease throughout their lifetime. Understanding the risk factors associated with colon cancer can help you know if you are vulnerable, which can guide you to screenings early on and help you keep an eye out for any digestive changes that could indicate issues in your colon.
Some of the most common risk factors of colon cancer in young adults include:
Living a sedentary lifestyle
Being overweight or obese
Diets high in processed meats
A history of colon cancer or lynch syndrome in your family
Unlike other cancers that may not have specific screening measures in place for early detection, there are various methodologies of colon cancer screening available today that may be recommended by your doctor depending on your risk factors and medical history.
While not all screening tools may be appropriate or necessary for each individual, the availability of these different screens and tests can increase your chances of diagnosing colon cancer in its early stages, particularly in situations when you may be at higher risk.
Types of screening tests available to detect colon cancer include:
There are several contributing factors to why colon cancer diagnoses in the younger population often occur once cancer has progressed to more advanced stages. First and foremost, colon cancer in the past was not typically a condition that affected young people, with most screening recommendations not beginning until a person reaches their mid-40s.
With no routine screening available to most young people with no known risk factors for colon cancer, it is uncommon for adults in their 20s to be offered a colonoscopy as part of their routine health checks.
Another factor to consider in the timeline of colon cancer diagnosis is that symptoms in the early stages can be very subtle, with many people reporting no significant changes in their health during this time.
Many young people may not think of colon cancer as something they need to be worrying about. Furthermore, healthcare providers may attribute certain symptoms to other possible gastrointestinal conditions which can delay detection.
If you have a family history of colon cancer or are exhibiting symptoms of possible colorectal cancer, you should ask your doctor about what screening option is best for you, regardless of your age. Colon cancer screening can help you detect colon cancer in its early stages or even identify polyps that could potentially become cancerous.
In most cases, a 25-year-old may not get a recommendation from a doctor for a colonoscopy as part of their routine health screening. However, if you have certain risk factors or feel signs of possible colon cancer, you must bring this up with your healthcare provider and discuss whether screening may be necessary in your case.
A colonoscopy is the most commonly used screening tool for colon cancer because of its accuracy in detection and ability to view all of your colon and rectum during the test.
The treatment for colon cancer will depend on the stage of the cancer is in and whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Treatment options for colon cancer available to you will depend on where the cancer is located and how aggressively the cancer is progressing. Your team of doctors can guide you through what you can expect and the best course of action for you.
Treatment options may include:
Colon cancer is on the rise among young people. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of colon cancer can help you detect if you may be at risk of developing the condition. Staying vigilant of your health and maintaining routine checkups and discussions with your doctors about any changes can help protect yourself and take action if you suspect colon cancer.
If you are exhibiting symptoms of colon cancer, make an appointment with your healthcare provider as soon as possible for an evaluation.
What is colorectal cancer? | American Cancer Society
Adolescents and young adults with cancer | National Cancer institute
Leading cancers by age, sex, race and ethnicity | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Why Is colorectal cancer rising rapidly among young adults? | National Cancer institute
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer? | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Colorectal cancer screening tests | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Treating colorectal cancer | American Cancer Society