March 16, 2023—Colorectal cancer is on the rise among younger people. While the risk is still low—it affects less than 1% of younger adults—it's a leading cause of cancer death for men and women ages 20 to 49, according to the American Cancer Society. And younger adults are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer that's already spread to other parts of the body.
When cancer is detected early, it's often easier to treat. That's why it's crucial to know the early signs of colorectal cancer—and when to start screening.
Recognize the signs
The early signs of colorectal cancer can be hard to recognize. That's because they may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have:
- A change in bowel habits that last for more than a few days. This includes diarrhea or constipation.
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood.
- Blood in the stool. This might make the stool look dark brown or black.
- A feeling like you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by having one.
- Cramping or abdominal pain.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Weight loss when you haven’t tried to lose weight.
These symptoms don’t mean you have cancer. But it's important to get checked out.
Colorectal cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in the early stages. That's where cancer screenings come in. They help find cancer even when there are no symptoms yet.
Screenings save lives
Screenings find signs of colorectal cancer early, when treatment may be more successful. And they can even help prevent it.
How? Screenings can find polyps, growths that could turn into cancer. Those polyps can also be removed during a colonoscopy—stopping colorectal cancer before it gets started. There are many options for colorectal cancer screening. Ask your doctor which is best for you.
According to the American Cancer Society, people at average risk should be screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45. If you're at a higher risk, your doctor may recommend being screened sooner or more often. Ask your doctor about your risk and when to get screened. To help start the conversation, explore our interactive assessment.
- American Cancer Society. “American Cancer Society Releases New Colorectal Cancer Statistics; Rapid Shifts to More Advanced Disease and Younger People.” https://pressroom.cancer.org/CRCFactsFigures2023.
- American Cancer Society. “Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html .
- American Cancer Society. “Colorectal Cancer Rates Rise in Younger Adults.” https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/colorectal-cancer-rates-rise-in-younger-adults.html.
- American Cancer Society. “Colorectal Cancer Signs and Symptoms.” https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html.
- American Cancer Society. “What is colonoscopy?” https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/tests/endoscopy/colonoscopy.html .
- American Cancer Society. “When Should You Start Getting Screened for Colorectal Cancer?” https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/american-cancer-society-updates-colorectal-cancer-screening-guideline.html.
- National Cancer Institute. “Why Is Colorectal Cancer Rising Rapidly among Young Adults?” https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/colorectal-cancer-rising-younger-adults.