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Colorectal Cancer Does Not Only Strike Older People

  • 21 Mar 2022
  • 3 mins

Cancers related to the digestive system are among the top cancers that younger adults are increasingly being diagnosed with. The demise of the Hollywood celebrity and Black Panther star Mr. Chadwick Boseman brings to light this uncomfortable truth that is still an emerging reality for many.

Anecdotally, these cancers tend to be more aggressive, but this can also be attributed to the fact that they are often diagnosed at a later stage.

Risk Profiling through Lifestyle Review

Though evidence suggests that an increasing number of younger adults are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, most individuals in their 30s to 40s would still brush this away as a little more than a whisper of a warning.

Understandably, this is because they tend to think that time and age are two factors that reduce their risk. While it is generally true, there are some vital mitigating factors that do add to the risk of colorectal cancer. While we cannot say what these were for Mr. Boseman, considerations such as lifestyle, eating habits, how much stress one is experiencing on a daily basis, and the family history of cancer are vital for doctors to compose a more personalized risk profile.

Symptoms under the Radar

It also does not help that on many occasions, patients with colorectal cancer do not experience severe or violent symptoms and signs until it is too late.

The bloating, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea that comes with the disease may often be written off as mere bowel changes. Blood in the stool, the most telling sign of all, is also commonly misattributed to non-cancerous conditions such as piles or hemorrhoids in the young.

As we live in an aesthetical climate of fitter and slimmer physiques, the weight loss and appetite changes that accompany the disease may also downplay the traditional red-flag symptoms that doctors look out for.

Is there a Right Age for Screening?

There is a growing body of evidence which shows a decrease in older adults suffering from colorectal cancer, likely due to screening practices. However, the numbers continue to rise for young adults.

Currently, most countries with screening programs recommend adults to undergo colorectal cancer screening from age 50.

In May 2019, the American Cancer Society (ACS) became the first national organization to recommend that adults of average risk for colorectal cancer begin routine screening at age 45 instead of 50. The revised guidelines were a result of an increasing rate of colorectal cancer among younger adults, coupled with the fact that for both older and younger adults, the early detection of colorectal cancer will significantly improve the chances of survival and cure.

The demise of the Black Panther star should be a wakeup call for both the young and old, to reconsider reducing the screening thresholds and start the process at a much younger age. Until then, we should all be mindful of our intestinal health, and keep the #WakandaForever star in our thoughts.

Download our Gastrointestinal Health Guide here.


Contributed by

Dr. Grace Tan
General Surgeon
Farrer Park Hospital

Dr. Melissa Teo
General Surgeon
Farrer Park Hospital