Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, disproportionately affects the Black community, who are about 20 percent more likely to get it and about 40 percent more likely to die from it than most other groups. What’s more, the American Cancer Society reports that while rates of colorectal cancer have been falling in older age groups in recent years, they’ve actually been rising among younger people. Fortunately, there are four symptoms that could provide early warning of colon cancer in younger adults.
Being aware of these red flags could lead to earlier detection and diagnosis for those under age 50, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Why are rates rising in younger people?
The death rate from colon cancer has been dropping for several decades in older adults who get regular colonoscopies and have improved treatment, according to the American Cancer Society. However, more younger people are diagnosed at advanced stages and are dying. In fact, the number of young adults with colon cancer has nearly doubled in recent years.
“We want younger adults to be aware of and act on these potentially very telling signs and symptoms — particularly because people under 50 are considered to be at low risk,” says senior investigator Yin Cao. She’s an associate professor of surgery in the public health sciences division at the university.
Younger adults often do not receive routine colon cancer screening. In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screening from 50 to 45.
4 symptoms that could point to colon cancer
The telltale symptoms are abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and iron deficiency anemia.
Two symptoms — rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia — point to the need for an endoscopy and follow-up. Iron deficiency anemia means there are too few healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen.
“It’s also crucial to spread awareness among primary care doctors, gastroenterologists and emergency medicine doctors,” Cao says, noting that many early-onset colon cancers are detected in emergency rooms.
“There often are significant diagnostic delays with this cancer,” she explained in a university news release.
For the new study, Cao and her colleagues looked at cases of more than 5,000 patients with