colorectal cancer

Younger people and colorectal cancer: questions and answers


Many of us were shocked to hear that Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer at age 43. Wasn’t he‑just two years ago— the hunky star of Black Panther? Doctors have been alarmed that more younger people are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but often it takes a celebrity expose to ignite public awareness.  

Screening recommendations modified 

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force just this week recommended that screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 45, rather than the previously recommended age 50. The American Cancer Society recommended this already in 2018. People at higher risk, such as people with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or a positive family history, should be screened even sooner.

Here are some Q and A to help you understand the basics of colorectal cancer.

How common is colorectal cancer?

According to the Brazilian National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men, after prostate and lung (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). For women, colorectal cancer is second only to breast cancer. Clearly it is a common cancer, and the percentage of people under 50 is increasing by 2% every year.

Why is it increasing in younger people?

There is no clear reason, but many experts suspect a dietary cause. A diet with too many fast foods can lead to an unhealthy microbiome, and a disordered microbiome may make a cancer more likely. Beyond bad diet, overuse of antibiotics is another big reason for colon microbiome disorder.

Are there risk factors for colorectal cancer?

A family history of colorectal cancer, also obesity, diabetes, and smoking. But many people with colorectal cancer have none of these risk factors, and that is one reason screening is so important. People have no idea they have this cancer, and only a screening test will find it.

What are the symptoms?

An early cancer may have no symptoms, but later symptoms include blood or changes in bowel movements, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, or unexplained weight loss. Some people have none of these symptoms, which is why screening is so important. 

How is screening done?

The best way is a colonoscopy (doctors call it a “gold standard” test). This requires a specialist to use a flexible telescope to look through your entire colon (about 1.5 meters) for any abnormalities. The good thing is that if pre-cancerous polyps are seen, they can be removed, to prevent that they turn into a cancer. But the negative aspect is that colonoscopy requires at least sedation, and an outpatient surgery center. Easier to do is at home tests of stool for hidden blood, but this test can miss many early cancers. Talk to your doctor about what is the best approach for you.

What is the prognosis?

Like most cancers, the prognosis is best if you find it early. In the early stages of colorectal cancer, the cure rate is 94%. But whatever your situation, the earlier the diagnosis the better. Despite COVID, don’t forget about cancer screening, and if you are 45 or above, especially if you have other risk factors, talk to your doctor about a colorectal screening test!

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website:

See also in ProcuraMed:

Exercise lowers cancer recurrence rates

Surgeon who revolutionized breast cancer treatment dies at age 101

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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