Colorectal cancer, once considered a disease of the elderly, is now increasingly affecting younger individuals. A study by the American Cancer Society and published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians found that half of all new colorectal cancer diagnoses are in people 66 and younger.

Further, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, colorectal cancer is estimated to become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among younger adults (ages 20 to 49) in the United States by 2030. Several factors may contribute to the rise of colorectal cancer cases in younger individuals in the U.S. Though scientists haven’t determined the specific reasons, an article on the Keck Medicine of USC website indicates poor diet and sedentary behavior could play a role.  

“The obesity epidemic is probably contributing, but doesn’t seem to be the sole cause,” Rebecca Siegel, scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta told CNN. “Diet has a large influence on colorectal cancer risk and there is a lot of research going on looking at how different things we consume, including drugs such as antibiotics, influence gut health, specifically their role in determining the microorganisms that make up our microbiome.” 

Another key issue is family history. If you have at least one or two close relatives who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or Lynch syndrome, you may be a good candidate for a genetic test like the MyRisk Hereditary Cancer test, which can help you and your clinician understand your personal risk for colorectal cancer.  

J.J. Singleton’s story 

In 2015, J.J. was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer when he was just 27 years old. He had been ignoring the symptoms until his parents made him go to the doctor. Within a week he was in surgery to have 80% of his colon removed and started chemo treatment right away. 

He thought the hardest part was over until he started to experience symptoms again. The cancer had come back and was not responding to the same treatment as his initial diagnosis.  

Today, J.J. is using his voice to encourage others to know their risks for hereditary colorectal cancer, as well as knowing the warnings signs.  

Warning signs 

Regardless of age, it’s crucial for everyone to be aware of the warning signs of colorectal cancer, as early detection may improve treatment outcomes.   

According to the Colon Cancer Coalition, warning signs could include: 

  • Blood in your stool, bleeding from the rectum, and/or change in the appearance of the stool 
  • Change in bowel habits or blood in the toilet after having a bowel movement 
  • Unexplained fatigue or weakness 
  • Anemia 
  • Unexplained or unintentional weight loss 
  • Persistent cramps or low back pain, cramping pain in the lower stomach 
  • Feeling bloated, or a feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The single best way to ensure early detection is to get screened regularly, which can include a colonoscopy. However, your doctor may recommend screening tests based on stool samples as a non-invasive alternative.  

The current medical guidelines recommendations say that colorectal screening should start at age 45, but given the rising incidence among young adults, some experts believe screening at younger ages is a good idea. According to the American Cancer Society, “people at increased or high risk of colorectal cancer might need to start colorectal cancer screening before age 45, be screened more often, and/or get specific tests.”  

Family history may play a role in qualifying for additional screenings. If you have at least one or two close relatives who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or Lynch syndrome or if you don’t have access to your family history, then a genetic test can help you understand your personal risk.  

Take this short quiz to see if you are a good candidate for the MyRisk Hereditary Cancer test