7 Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer That Younger Generations Need to Know

Colorectal cancer strikes more than 200,000 men and women in the United States each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that sometimes abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. Over time, polyps may become cancerous. This is why screening tests to identify and remove polyps at an early stage is so very vital.

It’s been widely shown that people ages 55 and over are at the greatest risk of contracting colorectal cancer. This is why most of the education pieces you see encourage people over the age of 55 to begin regular screenings for colon and rectal cancers. However, a newly released study shows colon and rectal cancer cases are increasing in younger generations.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed evidence of increasing colon and rectal cancer risks in millennial and Generation X adults. American Cancer Society researchers reported that someone born in 1990 has double the risk of early colon cancer and quadruple the risk of early rectal cancer as someone born in 1950.

While most of the United States’ annual cases still occur in people ages 55 and over, the study showed that cases involving young adults have risen to 29 percent for rectal cancer and 17 percent for colon cancer.

No matter your age, you should be aware of the following seven signs of colorectal cancer and contact a health care provider immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  1. A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days
  2. A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
  3. Rectal bleeding
  4. Dark stools or blood in the stool
  5. Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  6. Weakness and fatigue
  7. Unintended weight loss

Whether you are a baby boomer or a young adult, the risk factors and methods to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer are the same.

Risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history of colorectal cancer

Risk reduction:

  • Diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables and low in red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meat (hot dogs and some lunch meats)
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Watching your weight
  • Avoiding tobacco
  • Limiting alcohol

Everyone, regardless of age or identified risk factors, should be intimately familiar with their personal medical situations and family histories with regard to colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that some people be screened using a different schedule due to their personal histories or family histories. Talk with your doctor about your history and what colorectal cancer screening schedule is best for you.

Young adults with a family history or who are at greater risk for colorectal cancer should consult their health care professionals regarding regular colorectal tests. Bon Secours recommends that beginning at age 50, both men and women should follow one of these testing schedules:

Tests that find polyps and cancer

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years*, or
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years, or
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years*, or
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years*

Tests that primarily find cancer

  • Yearly fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)**, or
  • Yearly fecal immunochemical test (FIT) **, or
  • Stool DNA test (sDNA), interval uncertain**

* If the test is positive, a colonoscopy should be done.

** The multiple-stool take-home test should be used. One test done by the doctor in the office is not adequate for testing. A colonoscopy should be done if the test is positive.


The tests that are designed to find both early cancer and polyps are preferred if these tests are available to you and if you are willing to have one of these more invasive tests. Talk to your doctor about which test is best for you.


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