Colon Cancer is on the Rise Among Millennials

According to recent research, if you are among the Generation Xers or Millennials, you may be at increased risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. It may be useful for younger adults to schedule a screening, especially if there is a family history of cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn more about this serious health condition that may impact your health or that of someone you love.

What does the research suggest about colon cancer among millennials?

The American Cancer Society led new research that was recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study included approximately 500,000 participants who were diagnosed with colon cancer or rectal cancer and covered the period of 1974 to 2013.

Findings suggest that individuals born in 1990 have two times the risk of developing colon cancer and four times the risk of developing rectal cancer when compared to a group of participants born near 1950.

In general, the rates of colorectal cancer are decreasing when all ages are taken into account. An increase in the number of people having screenings may also be helpful in reducing the cases of colorectal cancer, as it is then possible to remove polyps that can become cancerous.

Older adults have helped to create this drop on overall colorectal cancer rates. However, the rates of those adults under 50 years of age are increasing. This is concerning as people in their productive years are now more likely to develop the condition, compared to previous years.

What are the risk factors for colon cancer?

There is a relationship between colorectal cancer, an unhealthy diet, obesity and a lack in physical activity. Those who live relatively sedentary lives, eat a diet of highly-processed foods and are not within the recommended weight range for their size and activity level may be increasing their risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.

Are there signs to look for?


Dr. Josh Vandersteen, Gastroenterologist at Ogden Clinic Ridgeline says “colorectal cancer is typically silent. The symptoms don’t develop until the later stages when it becomes very difficult to remove.” He adds “It’s very unfortunate that, under current guidelines, screening is only recommended at age 50 if there is no family history.”

Symptoms of the condition include unusual weight loss, fatigue and weakness, abdominal pain, blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, changes in bowel movements lasting for over a few days and a feeling of having to have a bowel movement that continues after having one.

“We need to change the screening recommendations or use other modalities to help detect these cancers,” suggests Dr. Vandersteen. “Until then, it is important for young people to be aware of their symptoms and seek medical advice if there are any changes in bowel habits.”

What can be done to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer?

Individuals can take steps to lower their risk. One can decrease their risk by staying within a healthy weight range, getting regular exercise, eating a whole foods diet mostly composed of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats, avoiding tobacco and limiting alcohol intake. When consuming meat, it is best to reduce the intake of red meat and processed meats, such as some luncheon meats and hot dogs.  Colonoscopies and recommended screening tests can be useful in detecting precancerous polyps and reduce incidences of colorectal cancer.

What can you do about colorectal cancer?

At the same time that cases of colorectal cancer are decreasing in older adults, there is a significant increase in adults under 50. Those with a family history or who notice unusual symptoms (like blood in the stool or abdominal pain) should schedule an appointment with their primary care provider or a gastroenterologist.

Vandersteen, Joshua

Dr. Josh Vandersteen sees patients at Ogden Clinic Ridgeline in South Ogden. To schedule a visit with Ogden Clinic Gastroenterology, call (801) 475-3380.