March 20, 2024

Colorectal cancer is being detected in younger people at a higher rate than in the past. How to help avoid this common cancer.

Cancer of the colon or rectum is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. 

For years, most people were advised to get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50. In recent years, however, there has been a trend of this type of cancer being detected at a more frequent rate in people younger than that.

The American Cancer Society says that people younger than age 55 made up only 11% of colorectal cancer cases in 1995, but by 2019 they made up 20% of these cases. That is “despite this age group shrinking in the overall population” (dropping from 80% of the U.S. population to 71% in that time period).

The cancer society also says that death rates from colorectal cancer among people younger than 50 ticked up by 1% each year from 2005 to 2023.

Colorectal cancer sometimes does not show any symptoms, especially at its earliest stage, but these may be signs:

  • Blood in the stool.
  • Frequent stomach pain or cramping.
  • Stools narrower than usual.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Choices you make today could protect you against this disease. 

6 lifelong habits that help prevent colorectal cancer

Research shows that the following strategies may help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and get regular physical activity.
  • Limit your intake of red meat and animal fats.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. 
  • Don’t smoke. If you’re a smoker, quit
  • Be sure you’re taking in enough vitamin D3. Studies suggest that higher vitamin D3 levels are associated with lower colorectal cancer rates, fewer cases of polyps that grow back and better survival rates among colon cancer patients, said the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology. Talk to your primary care provider about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement.

The seventh strategy is a cancer screening.

Colorectal cancer does not always create symptoms, especially in its early stages. That’s why regular screenings are so important. 

The American Cancer Society recommends that people with an average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. This is earlier than the previous advice to start at age 50.

If you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to get tested at an earlier age. People at increased risk include:

  • Individuals with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, which are precancerous growths in the colon or rectum.
  • Anyone with inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Talk to your health care provider about when to begin screening and which test is best for you. Screening options include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • CT colonography
  • Fecal immunohistochemical testing (FIT) and multitargeted stool DNA (mt-sDNA) testing, known as Cologuard
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy

White woman rides an exercise bike.

Cancer Checks Save Lives

Getting checked for colorectal cancer is so important, because this is a common type of cancer that does not have symptoms in its early stages. If you are 45 years old and have not had a colonoscopy, you can schedule one online.

Schedule Your Colonoscopy