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Colorectal cancer incidence rising in younger population

Written By: Andi Atkinson, UT Physicians | Updated: March 24, 2023
Person wears blue ribbon to raise colorectal cancer awareness

When you see blue, it's your cue to get tested for colorectal cancer.

Advanced colorectal cancer is increasing at an alarming rate in younger individuals.

In 1995, approximately 1 in 10 people under age 55 had new onset colorectal cancer; while in 2019, the incidence went up to 1 in 5. This was according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Asmeen Bhatt, MD
Asmeen Bhatt, MD

“The mortality rate for colorectal cancer has gone up in the age group under 55. This is the age group that often goes unscreened,” said Asmeen Bhatt, MD, gastroenterologist with UT Physicians Multispecialty – Bayshore.

To help reverse this trend, everyone should be screened starting at age 45.

“All adults should receive a colonoscopy or another form of colorectal cancer screening at age 45,” Bhatt said. “If there is a family history of colorectal cancer, patients need to talk to their doctor and get screened earlier than age 45.”

Generally, if the first colonoscopy does not show signs of precancerous polyps (small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon), the procedure should be performed every 10 years until at least age 75. If a person has a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps, a colonoscopy should be performed every five years or as advised by the physician.

Screening is necessary because symptoms do not always present in the early stages, according to the ACS.

“Patient could have blood in the stools, abdominal pain, weight loss, changes in bowel movements; but by the time those symptoms present, the cancer has generally advanced,” said Bhatt, assistant professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Certain ethnic populations, particularly African Americans followed by American Indians/Alaskan Natives, run a higher risk and may need to be more proactive for screening.

To help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and other diseases, eat high-fiber foods, limit red meats and processed foods, avoid alcohol and tobacco products, and exercise regularly.

This lifestyle will also promote a healthy weight, which may further reduce the risk.

“We don’t know why younger patients are having an increased incidence of colorectal cancer. It can be related to genetic factors (family history), diet, and environmental factors,” Bhatt said. “Some believe it can also be related to obesity. The population of patients with obesity has gone up, especially in younger patients, and the rise in colorectal cancer is following suit.”

“Obesity is linked to many health problems, so it’s always better to maintain a healthy weight,” added Bhatt, who is also board-certified in obesity medicine.

For Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, wear blue clothes or sport a blue ribbon to help raise awareness of the disease. Additionally, remind family members and friends to talk to a doctor about scheduling a colorectal cancer screening.

To schedule a screening, visit the UT Physicians Colon and Rectal page.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.