The news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing after a four-year battle with colon cancer brought with it a number of important conversations surrounding the topic of colon cancer - the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. And as Boseman lost his battle at the age of 43, the risk of colon cancer in young adults, in particular, has been on many people’s minds.
In May of 2018, the American Cancer Society (ACS) updated its colon cancer screening age guidelines, lowering the recommended age from 50 to 45. This change was a response to the rising rates of colon cancer cases among those under the age of 50 with estimates predicting that almost 18,000 people under the age of 50 would be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020 in the United States alone .
How common is colon cancer in younger adults?
Although the majority of colon cancer cases are found in adults aged 50 years and older, according to the ACS, estimates forecasted that around 12% of new cases of colorectal cancer (which includes cancer in the rectum or the colon) in 2020 would occur in people under the age of 50 - that’s around 49 new cases per day .
Those diagnosed with colorectal cancer are certainly becoming consistently younger. In fact, while the incidence rate declines in older age groups, it seems to be increasing in younger adults.
Why are colon cancer rates rising in younger adults?
The increase of colorectal cancer cases in younger adults is a pattern that the ACS describes as a ‘birth cohort effect’. “CRC incidence rates have been increasing since the mid-1980s in adults ages 20-39 years and since the mid-1990s in adults ages 40-54 years, with younger age groups experiencing the steepest increase”, they explain that this pattern occurs because “generations of individuals with higher incidence carry the elevated risk with them as they age.” 
With the exception of this insight, experts still aren’t completely sure of the reason for these growth rates. Although risk factors such as obesity, diabetes, smoking, and family history may be playing a part.
What symptoms should people know about?
Mayo Clinic notes that many people with colon cancer experience little to no symptoms in the early stages of the disease which makes regular screening crucial. If symptoms do appear, they may include a change in bowel habits, abdominal discomfort, fatigue, or unexplained weight loss.
Another common sign of colon cancer is blood in the stool. If you notice this or any of the listed symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your doctor immediately.
What is the recommended screening age?
It’s recommended to begin regular screening from the age of 45. For those with a high risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer or those with an inflammatory bowel disease, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about the best screening options for you as screening may need to start earlier.
There are various ways that screenings can be carried out, these include stool-based tests (such as LetsGetChecked’s at-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) test) or visual exams like the colonoscopy.
This Colon Cancer Awareness Month, LetsGetChecked is honored to team up with two incredible advocates to highlight the importance of early and regular screening: Colorectal Cancer Alliance and actress Zoe Saldana, best known for her roles in the films Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers.
We will be donating $1 Million worth of our at-home Colon Cancer Screening Tests as well as $100,000 to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to help with their crucial work towards helping underserved communities get the treatment they may need.
Zoe Saldana is passionate about how early detection can help save lives and we are thankful that she is helping raise awareness surrounding the importance of regular screening. You can find out more through our Instagram.