Sarah Cannon - December 30, 2019

With Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month approaching in March, now is the time to raise awareness about the disease, which is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States.

According to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, on average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 23, with about 71 percent arising in the colon with the balance developing in the rectum.

While the risk of developing colon cancer increases with age, the incidence of colon cancer is rising up to 3% annually for people under the age of 50, as well. Research conducted by the American Cancer Society has also found that people younger than age 55 developing colorectal cancer are 58% more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage disease than older adults, making cure less likely for them. This dramatic rise in colon cancer incidence in younger individuals prompted the American Cancer Society to now recommend that colorectal cancer screening begin at age 45 for average risk adults.[1] Individuals with a family history of colon cancer should speak to their physicians about beginning screening at even a younger age in some instances, based on the age their affected family members were diagnosed.

“We are unfortunately seeing colorectal cancer develop in many young adults who have none of the characteristic risk factors for developing colorectal cancer,” says Shiraj Sen, MD, PhD, Investigator at the GI Cancer Research Program and Associate Director of Drug Development at Sarah Cannon Research Institute at HealthONE. “These are often healthy individuals who have healthy diets, exercise, and have no family history of colorectal cancer. These young adults often tell us that they were not aware that colon cancer could be the cause of their symptoms and that led them to not see a doctor until their symptoms worsened quite significantly. Others tell us that they saw multiple physicians before a correct diagnosis was made. We therefore feel that it is now more important than ever for our younger population to be aware of the early signs of colorectal cancer and to advocate to their physicians for a workup if they exhibit any of the below signs or symptoms.”

Symptoms of colon cancer

While in many cases, there are no obvious symptoms with colon cancer, there are some that can be warning signs and should be discussed with your physician. These include:

  • Any major change in bowel habits
  • Blood in the stool that is either bright red, black or tarry
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • General abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness and/or cramps
  • Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness
  • New onset anemia diagnosed on routine lab work

Risk factors for colon cancer

In addition to being aware of symptoms, you should discuss colon cancer screenings with your physician if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • Having a personal history of colon or rectal cancer, adenomatous polyps, chronic inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
  • Having a strong family history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps, especially a first-degree relative such as a parent, sibling or child or multiple second-degree relatives

Finally, be aware that certain lifestyle factors may also increase your risk for colon cancer:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diets high in meat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Heavy alcohol intake
  • Physical inactivity

For more information about colon cancer, visit the Colorectal Cancer section on our website or the Colorectal Cancer Alliance website.

Want to learn more about Fight Colorectal Cancer?

If you have questions about how to spot early symptoms of colon cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 and speak to a nurse available 24/7.

[1] Simon, S. (2018, May 30). American Cancer Society Updates Colorectal Cancer Screening Guideline. Retrieved from www.cancer.org/latest-news/american-cancer-society-updates-colorectal-cancer-screening-guideline.html. Accessed June 10, 2019.