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4 symptoms of increased risk of colon cancer


Four important symptoms that signal an increased risk of early colon cancer have been identified by experts at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. They may be key to the early detection and diagnosis of colon cancer, especially in younger adults. These are people in whom the disease occurs before the age of 50. The number of young adults with colon cancer has been steadily increasing in recent years.

A study found that there are symptoms that indicate an increased risk of the disease, and much earlier - from three months to two years before diagnosis. These complaints are:

  • abdominal pain;
  • rectal bleeding;
  • diarrhea;
  • iron deficiency anemia.

If a person is under 50 and has one of the symptoms, the risk almost doubles. With two symptoms, the risk increases by more than 3.5 times. With three or more symptoms, the risk is 6.5 times higher than in people without symptoms.


The study data was published on May 4, 2023 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The authors state that it is very important for primary care physicians, gastroenterologists, and emergency physicians to be aware of these complaints. Unfortunately, many middle-aged patients hear the diagnosis in emergency departments. Often this happens too late, when the disease is advanced.

Anemia and bleeding are the most dangerous

Two of the symptoms - rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia - are a clear sign that endoscopy and follow-up of the patient should be done. Anemia is a condition in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen in the blood.

The scientists' observation is that it takes about three months from the first visit to a doctor with one or more of the signs and symptoms to a diagnosis. The analysis found that some young adults had clear symptoms up to two years before diagnosis. This explains why many of these younger patients are found to have more advanced disease than older people who are seen regularly.

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Those born in 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer

Individuals born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to young adults born in 1950. This is influenced by lifestyle and diet. This trend has led the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the American Gastroenterological Association and other professional societies to prioritize research to identify risk factors and improve early detection. In 2021, the US Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screening from 50 to 45.

Obesity, prolonged sitting, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, sugar-sweetened beverages and other risk factors may contribute to the increasing incidence of young-onset colon cancer.

Although the death rate from colon cancer has been declining for several decades in older people due to regular colonoscopies and improved treatment, more young people are being diagnosed with the disease at an advanced stage. Many of them die from the disease. These are conclusions made by the American Cancer Society. This trend shows that the issue of recognizing symptoms as early as possible is urgent.

The majority of early-onset colon cancers have been and will continue to be detected after symptoms appear. Therefore, it is important that doctors pay attention to their patients' complaints and refer them for tests. Early diagnosis makes it possible to apply effective treatment. The need for more aggressive therapy is reduced, the quality of life of patients and the survival rate are improved.

Editor Ina Dimitrova


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