Rising Colorectal Cancer Rates in Young Adults

November 21, 2014

Most people know that colorectal screening is on the “to do” list when they reach 50 years of age, barring any high risk concern for where screening would begin earlier.  Screening saves lives and prevents many colon cancers.  With the increase in public awareness and availability of colonoscopy screening, the rates of colon and rectal cancers have been declining and survival rates increasing for people between the ages of 50 and 74. This is great news for our mature population, but a recent study indicates a concerning trend of increased risk of colorectal cancer in young people, ranging from ages 20 to 34 and 35-49 year olds. 

The increase in cancer for those 20-34, although alarming, constitutes 1% of the total colorectal cancers diagnosed annually and for the 35-49 year olds, the percentage of cancers is 6.8%. The cause of this increase is unclear but there is some speculation that diet, environment and physical activity levels play a role. More research needs to be done and preventative and screening tools need to be evaluated to identify high risk individuals to make sound recommendations for care.

What can you do? It is important as clinicians to listen to our patients and their symptoms, assessing risk levels and be mindful that colon and rectal cancers exist in younger people.  Remember to test accordingly. Diagnostic testing is different from asymptomatic screening.  We can also encourage people to reduce their risk through:

  • Diets rich in fiber

  • Regular exercise

  • Healthy body mass index (BMI)

  • Do not smoke


As a population, we need to promote wellness for all ages and identify those at high risk so we can monitor their health more closely and bring in tools such as genomic testing and others, when appropriate.

Please visit this page to learn more about risk factors, symptoms and screening options.

Topics: Cancer