Too Young for Colorectal Cancer?

Early-onset colon and rectal cancers on the rise

Colon and rectal cancers mostly affect people over age 50, but recent years show a disturbing trend. Colorectal cancer is increasing dramatically among younger adults, and guidelines now recommend that most people begin routine screening for colorectal cancer by age 45 — five years earlier than previous guidance.

Even so, it’s adults younger than age 45 who are seeing the most dramatic rise. For adults in the 20 to 34 age group, experts estimate that colon cancer rates will increase by 90% and rectal cancer rates will increase by 124%. People with risk factors may need to begin colorectal cancer younger than age 45.

Colorectal cancer risk factors

Talk to your doctor about starting colorectal screening younger than age 45 if you have risk factors, such as:

  • African American ethnicity
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of colorectal polyps
  • Personal history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer
  • Known genetic condition associated with colorectal cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

Colorectal cancer is different in younger patients

The colorectal cancers diagnosed in younger adults tend to be different in their biology, pathology, genetics and other features that make treatment and cure more challenging. Colorectal cancers in young adults are more likely to have the following characteristics:

  • Advanced stage at diagnosis
  • Poor tumor cell differentiation, which means the cancer cells are growing and spreading quickly
  • Signet ring cell carcinoma, an aggressive subtype
  • Primary tumor location on the left side of colon
  • Related to a genetic cancer syndrome

Our expertise in early-onset colorectal cancer

Young Adults with Cancer

Facing a diagnosis of cancer in your 20s or 30s? You need a comprehensive cancer center. Learn why.

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If you have a diagnosis of colorectal cancer at a young age, we understand that your comprehensive care means integrating support and other services with cutting-edge cancer treatment, including:

  • Multispecialty care from gastroenterologists, pathologists and surgical, medical and radiation oncologists who focus exclusively on colon and rectal cancers.
  • Genetic screening to determine whether your colorectal cancer is related to an inherited genetic syndrome
  • Genomic profiling of your tumor with next-generation genomic testing, such as the Roswell Park-developed OmniSeq Comprehensive to match your cancer with the latest, most appropriate treatments or clinical trials.
  • Fertility preservation consultation before you begin treatment to learn and initiate your options.
  • Young Adult Cancer program that includes mental health support, financial guidance, social and networking events, and more specifically for patients in their 20s and 30s.
  • Sexual Health clinics to address side effects of treatment that may affect intimacy.
  • Pelvic floor rehabilitation to rebuild strength and improve bowel function, especially important for rectal cancers
  • Survivorship program to help you face forward after cancer and aim for your highest level of lifelong wellness.