Nearly 15% of patients diagnosed with advanced-stage colorectal cancer were diagnosed before age 50, according to a study published in Cancer.

Of the 258,024 participants in the population-based, retrospective cohort study, 37,847 patients diagnosed between 1998 and 2011 were aged younger than 50 years. Researchers found that those younger patients were more likely to present with either regional (relative risk ratio; 1.3) or distant (relative risk ratio 1.5) disease, and more likely to undergo aggressive surgery and radiation therapy treatment. As a result, these patients had overall better disease-specific survival rates; 21% of younger patients survived beyond the 5-year mark (hazards ratio, 0.77).

“Colorectal cancer has traditionally been thought of as a disease of the elderly,” said study author Samantha Hendren, MD, MPH, associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Our study found that about 15% of colorectal cancers are diagnosed before the screening age of 50.”

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Although the findings may suggest a need for increased awareness and warning signs – including anemia, a dramatic change in size or frequency of bowel movements, or bleeding with bowel movements, as well as family history – the researchers also note a growing need for long-term survivor support.

Dr Hendren said that she was unsure of the potential benefit of changing colorectal cancer screening guidelines. “A lot of research would be required to understand this before any changes should be made.”


  1. Abdelsattar ZM, Wong SL, Regenbogen SE, et al. Colorectal cancer outcomes and treatment patterns in patients too young for average-risk screening. Cancer. 2016; doi: 10.1002/cncr.29716