Colorectal Cancer in the Young: Epidemiology, Prevention, Management

Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2020 Mar:40:1-14. doi: 10.1200/EDBK_279901.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) incidence rates in the United States overall have declined since the mid-1980s because of changing patterns in risk factors (e.g., decreased smoking) and increases in screening. However, this progress is increasingly confined to older adults. CRC occurrence has been on the rise in patients younger than age 50, often referred to as early-onset disease, since the mid-1990s. Young patients are more often diagnosed at an advanced stage and with rectal disease than their older counterparts, and they have numerous other unique challenges across the cancer management continuum. For example, young patients are less likely than older patients to have a usual source of health care; often need a more complex treatment protocol to preserve fertility and sexual function; are at higher risk of long-term and late effects, including subsequent primary malignancies; and more often suffer medical financial hardship. Diagnosis is often delayed because of provider- and patient-related factors, and clinicians must have a high index of suspicion if young patients present with rectal bleeding or changes in bowel habits. Educating primary care providers and the larger population on the increasing incidence and characteristic symptoms is paramount. Morbidity can further be averted by increasing awareness of the criteria for early screening, which include a family history of CRC or polyps and a genetic predisposition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans