Early-onset colorectal cancer: Warning signs and why they matter

Credit: Eugene Chystiakov / Unsplash

Colorectal cancer is an illness that usually affects older people. But recently, we’ve seen more young adults diagnosed with this disease.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have made an important discovery.

They’ve found four symptoms that could signal an early onset of colorectal cancer in younger adults.

The Four Warning Signs

The four symptoms they identified are:

  1. Abdominal pain: This is pain or discomfort in the stomach area.
  2. Rectal bleeding: This is blood coming from the back passage.
  3. Diarrhea: This is when you pass loose or watery stools more frequently than usual.
  4. Iron deficiency anemia: This is a condition where the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen.

Having just one of these symptoms could nearly double the risk of getting early-onset colorectal cancer.

If you have two symptoms, your risk could increase more than three times. And if you have three or more, your risk could increase more than six times.

What the Study Showed

The researchers looked at health insurance data from over 5,000 patients with early-onset colorectal cancer. This is the kind of cancer that shows up before a person turns 50.

They found that patients experienced these symptoms between three months and two years before they were diagnosed with cancer.

The Importance of Early Detection

Catching cancer early is crucial. When colorectal cancer is found early, it’s much easier to treat.

Unfortunately, many young adults don’t get diagnosed until they’re in the emergency room with severe symptoms. This means that the disease is often more advanced and harder to treat.

Two symptoms — rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia — are particularly important.

If you have these symptoms, you should get an endoscopy as soon as possible. This is a procedure where a doctor looks inside your body using a special instrument.

The Changing Face of Colorectal Cancer

Younger people are getting colorectal cancer more often than before. People born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950.

This worrying trend has led to changes in screening recommendations. In 2021, health experts started advising people to start screening for colorectal cancer at age 45, instead of 50.

Risk Factors for Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer

Other than the four symptoms, certain lifestyle factors can also increase your risk of getting colorectal cancer.

These include obesity, sitting for long periods, having metabolic syndrome or diabetes, and drinking too many sugar-sweetened beverages.

Conclusion: What You Can Do

The most important thing is to know the symptoms and take them seriously. If you have any of the four symptoms, talk to your doctor right away.

Remember, catching cancer early can make a big difference in how successful treatment is.

If you care about cancer, please read studies that vitamin D level in your blood may predict colon cancer risk, and vitamin D supplements strongly reduces cancer death.

For more information about health please see recent studies about how COVID-19 affects the colon, and results showing no one should cancel their colonoscopies.

The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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