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Just the Facts, Ma'am – “Everything” You Need to Know About Colorectal Cancer (Colon)

The following headline caught my eye and convinced me of needing a to-the-point message about the prevention, screening, and treatment of Colon Cancer: “The Cancer Deaths Still Declining, but Progress Threatened by Increasing Incidence: Colorectal Cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in men and the second in women under 50.” (, 2024)


Colorectal cancer (colon cancer) doesn't have early warning signs, so it's essential to get checked. Finding cancer early means it's more curable. I lost a beloved aunt to cancer that is known to have originated in her colon – that was over 30 years ago. Black men and women are more likely to get colorectal cancer than any other racial group in the United States.

They also are 40% more likely to die from it than other racial groups. IAWH is encouraging women to speak to the young and older men in their lives, and men, talk to the young and older women in your lives about the importance of knowing about the rise of colon cancer in young people, recognizing the signs and symptoms of the disease, share this article. Be the one who uses your health insurance if you have access, be diligent about finding health insurance on the marketplace (see links below), and if you are uninsured or underinsured, see our links below to the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, that can help you. 

The Rise of Colon Cancer in People Younger Than 45

The truth is that colorectal cancer (colon cancer) is also on the rise in young adults and has been for years. Health professionals are urging people younger than 45—even college students—to talk to their doctors about any suspicious symptoms, such as constipation, rectal bleeding, or sudden changes in bowel movement. (see the Yale University link below for more information). In older adults, researchers attribute colon cancer incidence to not getting screening. However, doctors don’t attribute the trend among young people to increased screening since many younger adults are being diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer (screenings would detect the disease earlier), and many are in their 20s or 30s. Health experts point to diets high in ultra-processed foods, which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer and the rise in more sedentary lifestyles and obesity.   The National Institutes of Health provides that avoiding cancer risk factors may help prevent certain cancers. Risk factors include smoking, being overweight, and not getting enough exercise.

Increasing protective factors like quitting smoking and exercising may help prevent some cancers. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about how you might lower your risk and any symptoms. 

Recognizing Symptoms of Colon Cancer

First, know that, like any symptom that you experience, it may be the result of a medical condition that is not cancer, particularly for general symptoms like abdominal discomfort and irregular bowel movement. However, do consider checking in with a doctor who will know what signs to be concerned about. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) offers this list of symptoms to pay close attention to:

  •  A change in bowel habits

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely

  • Bright red or very dark blood in the stool

  • Stools that look narrower or thinner than normal

  • Discomfort in the abdomen, including frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, and cramps

  • Weight loss with no known explanation

  • Constant tiredness or fatigue

  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, which is a low number of red blood cells


Guidance from ASCO: Talk with your doctor if these symptoms last several weeks or become more severe. If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your doctor, and ask to schedule a colonoscopy. Because colorectal cancer can occur in people younger than the recommended screening age and in older people between screenings, anyone at any age who experiences these symptoms should visit a doctor to find out if they should have a colonoscopy. Your doctor will try to understand what is causing your symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis. If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an integral part of cancer care and treatment.

Just the Facts, Ma'am: Colon Cancer Resources

Below are IAWH picks for some of the most comprehensive articles and resources about colon cancer. 






Janine E. Payne, MPH

Co-Executive Director

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