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March 2024

4 Red-Flag Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

If you’re under age 50, you may believe that colorectal cancer isn’t something you need to think about right now. But cases of colorectal cancer in your age group have actually been rising for decades. And unlike an older adult, you may not be routinely screened for the disease. That makes it especially important to know how to recognize the warning signs of colorectal cancer. This could help you catch it at an early stage, when it’s easier to treat.

What to watch for

When colorectal cancer is diagnosed before age 50, it’s referred to as “early-onset.” A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked for red-flag signs and symptoms of this condition in younger adults.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 5,000 people with early-onset colorectal cancer and compared it with data from similar individuals who didn’t have cancer. In the 3 months to 2 years leading up to diagnosis, four signs and symptoms were more common in the colorectal cancer group:

  • Stomach pain

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Diarrhea

  • Iron-deficiency anemia (lack of enough iron in your body, which can be diagnosed through blood tests)

Having just one of these red-flag signs nearly doubled the risk of being diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer. The more signs a person had, the likelier a diagnosis became.

Take action today

These steps can improve your chances of finding colorectal cancer at an early, more treatable stage:

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have these symptoms. Don’t delay. Often, these symptoms are caused by something other than colorectal cancer. But if you do happen to have cancer, finding it early could save your life.

Talk with your provider about when to start regular colorectal cancer screenings. This is testing that helps to catch the disease early before symptoms start. Experts recommend starting routine screening at age 45. You may need to begin sooner if you have:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps (noncancerous growths)

  • Certain genetic syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)

Before your first screening, discuss testing options with your provider. There are several screening methods, so talk about what’s right for you and how often you need to be tested. Then set up a screening schedule for yourself, and add reminders to your calendar.


Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals, MPH, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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