According to a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, four significant symptoms are linked to an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer. The researchers claim that identifying these warning signs can facilitate earlier detection and diagnosis of the disease in younger adults. The number of young adults suffering from colorectal cancer has nearly doubled in recent years.
The researchers examined health insurance data from over 5,000 patients diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer, which develops before the age of 50. The study revealed that abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia all indicate an increased risk of the disease, with a single symptom nearly doubling the risk, two symptoms increasing it by over 3.5 times, and three or more symptoms raising it by more than 6.5 times.
The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on May 4th.
Yin Cao, senior investigator and associate professor of surgery in the Public Health Sciences Division, stressed the importance of raising awareness of the disease among younger adults and medical professionals. Cao believes that since individuals under 50 are considered to be at low risk and do not undergo routine screening, identifying these symptoms is crucial. Many early-onset colorectal cancers are discovered in emergency rooms, and diagnostic delays for this cancer can be significant, according to Cao.
Cao emphasized that rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia are two symptoms that require timely endoscopy and follow-up. In the study, Cao, first author Cassandra D. L. Fritz, and co-first author Ebunoluwa Otegbeye analyzed cases of early-onset colorectal cancer and matched controls using the IBM MarketScan Commercial Database, which provides longitudinal, de-identified data based on health insurance claims from approximately 113 million insured adults between the ages of 18 and 64.
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers have discovered four critical symptoms that signal an increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer in young adults. Abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia were identified as warning signs in patients under 50 years of age based on an analysis of de-identified health insurance data on more than 5,000 patients. The study, which is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, also revealed that the risk of early-onset colorectal cancer almost doubled with a single symptom, tripled with two symptoms, and increased by over 6.5 times with three or more symptoms.
Young adults are typically not considered at high risk for colorectal cancer, and screening is not routinely conducted. However, the incidence of colorectal cancer among younger adults has almost doubled in recent years, with those born in 1990 having double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to those born in 1950. As a result, professional societies, including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American Gastroenterological Association, are focusing on identifying risk factors and improving early detection. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has also lowered the recommended age for colorectal cancer screening from 50 to 45.
Early diagnosis is critical in treating colorectal cancer. The study found that some young adults had symptoms for up to two years before receiving a diagnosis, resulting in more advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than what is typically seen in older people who receive regular screenings. The majority of early-onset colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed after symptom presentation, indicating the need to recognize and respond to red-flag symptoms promptly to diagnose the disease earlier and improve patients' quality of life and survival rates.