4 earliest signs of colon cancer in younger adults: study

A new study from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and iron deficiency anemia may be the earliest signs of colorectal cancer among people under 50. 

The findings were published May 4 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and are based on de-identified health insurance data from more than 5,000 patients with early-onset colorectal cancer, meaning they were younger than 50. Researchers found participants had at least one of the aforementioned signs and symptoms up to two years before diagnosis. 

A single symptom nearly doubled the risk, and having three or more increased the risk by more than 6.5 times, according to researchers. 

"Colorectal cancer is not simply a disease affecting older people; we want younger adults to be aware of and act on these potentially very telling signs and symptoms — particularly because people under 50 are considered to be at low risk, and they don't receive routine colorectal cancer screening" said Yin Cao, a senior investigator on the study and associate professor of surgery in the school of medicine's public health science division. 

In recent years, colorectal cancer rates have been rising among younger adults. Previous research has shown people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk for rectal cancer compared to those born around 1950. 

Researchers hope the new findings will elevate awareness of signs that could lead to earlier detection and diagnosis.

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