Colon And Rectal Cancer Rates Up Among Generation X And Millennials: Symptoms, Risk Factors And What To Do


As incidents of colorectal cancer drop in people born around 1950, rates in young and middle-aged adults in the United States are up, according to a new study.

In 2017, there will be more than 135,000 cases of colorectal cancer in the country with mortality expected in more than 50,000 cases.

Based on findings published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, the overall incidence of colorectal cancer in people 50 and older has been dropping by 32 percent since 2000. This is attributed to proper screening that leads to early detection and removal of precancerous polyps.

On the other hand, cases of CRC among people younger than 50 has been increasing. From 2000 through 2013, incidence went up by 22 percent.

In terms of death rates, it dropped by 34 percent in people 50 or older but went up by 13 percent in the 50 and under population.

"Trends in young people are a bellwether for the future disease burden. Our finding that colorectal cancer risk for millennials has escalated back to the level of those born in the late 1800s is very sobering. Educational campaigns are needed to alert clinicians and the general public about this increase to help reduce delays in diagnosis, which are so prevalent in young people but also to encourage healthier eating and more active lifestyles to try to reverse this trend," said Rebecca Siegel of the American Cancer Society.

Why Younger Americans Are More Prone To Colorectal Cancer

It is not yet clear why Gen Xers and millennials are more prone to colon and rectal cancers. Experts think some factors to consider include excess body weight, unhealthy diet, and an inactive lifestyle.

According to the American Cancer Society, being overweight or obese ups one's risk of developing and dying from CRC. On the other hand, having a more active lifestyle might help lower the risk.

Those who love red meats and processed meats are more prone to developing colon and rectal cancer. Diets that include consumption of more whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are linked to lower CRC risk.

One can be at a higher risk for CRC if one has a history of colon or rectal cancer in the family, have bowel diseases, or certain genetic syndromes.

Colorectal Cancer Signs And Symptoms

Colorectal cancer often does not show symptoms until you hit the late stages. The American Cancer Society says individuals are advised to see a doctor and should not ignore the following symptoms:

• A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
• A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so
• Rectal bleeding
• Dark stools, or blood in the stool (often, though, the stool will look normal)
• Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
• Weakness and fatigue
• Unintended weight loss

Having certain symptoms does not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. Screening is important in order to find out what the real causes of the symptoms are.

Colorectal Cancer Screening

If something suspicious is detected, doctors will recommend certain tests and exams to get to the bottom of things.

Here are some of the most common tests prescribed by doctors when colorectal cancer is suspected:

Guaiac-Based Fecal Occult Blood Test (gFOBT)

This is a stool test that uses chemical to detect blood in the stool. gFOBT is recommended to be done at least once a year.

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

This is another stool test that patients can take once a year. It uses antibodies to spot blood in your stool.


Stool DNA test combines the FIT and a test to analyze altered DNA or cancer cells in stool. Doctors recommend doing it once every one or three years. Those who will undergo this test should collect an entire bowel movement for processing in the lab.

Flex Sigmoidoscopy

When one undergoes a Flex sigmoidoscopy or flex sig screening, a doctor will insert a short flexible, lighted tube into one's rectum and check for cancer or polyps in the rectum and lower third of the colon. This is done every five years or every 10 years in combo with FIT every year.


Compared with flex sig, colonoscopy involves using a longer tube to screen for polyps and cancer in the rectum and the entire length of the colon. During the procedure, doctors can also remove most polyps and certain cancers.

Virtual Colonoscopy

Also known as computed tomography colonography, this form of screening makes use of X-rays and computers to produce images of the colon.

Meanwhile, the proponents of the new study recommend that the age for colorectal screening for people with average risk be reconsidered.

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