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Why Young Adults May Want to Be Screened for Colon Cancer Before Age 45

January 16, 2024

If you think colon cancer doesn’t affect people at a young age, think again.

A study finds the rate of colon cancer in people under the age of 50 has doubled since 1990. In fact, the American Cancer Society says colon cancer, also referred to as colorectal cancer, is now the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women in the United States.

“It’s this data that really has prompted the screening guidelines to change,” says Christine M. Bartus, MD, colorectal surgeon with The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

So, who needs to be screened for colon cancer? Dr. Bartus explains the official recommendations and why some young people may want to start even younger.

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What are the screening recommendations for colon cancer?

In 2021, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force lowered the age for people at average risk of colon cancer from 50 to 45. However, there are circumstances where people younger than that may need to a colonoscopy.

“Although 45 is the age for everyone to start getting tested, individuals with a family history or those experiencing symptoms may be advised to have a colonoscopy earlier,” says Bartus.

> Related: Colonoscopy vs. Cologuard: Which Is Right for You?

What are the symptoms to watch for?

According to Dr. Bartus, symptoms can be subtle. Any of the following symptoms should prompt a visit to a doctor:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal/rectal pain
  • Change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or fatigue

> Related: Dreading Your Colonoscopy Prep? There’s a New Pill Option

Why are younger people being diagnosed?

“In the majority of cases we cannot pinpoint a single thing that increases a patient’s risk,” says Dr. Bartus. “Certainly on a population scale we see that factors such as diet, obesity, tobacco and alcohol consumption, genetics and environmental exposures can all play a role.”

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Is it treatable?

“Colon cancer is very treatable,” says Bartus. “Surgical and chemotherapy treatments have improved survival among patients. As is the case with all cancers, survival drastically improves with early diagnosis,” Bartus says.