Bowel cancer rates jump 266% among 15 to 24-year-olds

Bowel or colorectal cancer is a serious health concern primarily affecting older adults. However, according to Bowel Cancer Australia, people born in 1990 onwards have double the risk of colon cancer and quadruple the risk of rectal cancer compared with people born between 1950 and 1990. Recent studies have shown that the incidence of bowel cancer among individuals aged 15 to 24 has skyrocketed, experiencing a startling 266% increase in recent years.

What is putting young people at such high risk?

Sounding the alarm

Bowel cancer is a malignancy in the colon or rectum, two parts of the large intestine. It usually begins as small growths called polyps, which, if left untreated, can become cancerous. Traditionally, bowel cancer has been associated with older age groups, with most cases occurring after age 50. Since the 1990s, the number of certain cancers has gone up a lot in younger people worldwide. This has led some researchers to call it an “emerging global epidemic” of early-onset cancer.

Image source: The Guardian

Early-onset bowel cancer is often diagnosed at later stages (Stage III or IV), making it harder to treat. Sometimes, symptoms are missed or the diagnosis is incorrect, which can lead to a delay in getting the right treatment.

Younger people diagnosed with bowel cancer may have attributed their initial symptoms to other factors such as hemorrhoids, diarrhea, constipation, food intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, recovering after having a baby, or just having a hectic lifestyle.

Why are young people facing such high risks of bowel cancer?

Several factors have been identified that might contribute to the increased incidence of bowel cancer among young adults. These factors include:

  • Obesity and unhealthy diet: A sedentary lifestyle and a diet rich in processed foods, red meat, and sugary beverages have been linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer among young individuals. These dietary habits are prevalent among the youth, and their impact on health cannot be overlooked.

  • Smoking and alcohol consumption: Engaging in risky behaviors like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is another potential risk factor for bowel cancer in young people. These habits can damage the intestine cells and increase cancer risk.

  • Genetic predisposition: Some individuals may have an inherited genetic predisposition to develop bowel cancer at a young age. Hereditary syndromes such as Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) can significantly increase the risk of developing this cancer.

  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD): Chronic inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, have been associated with an elevated risk of developing bowel cancer, mainly when diagnosed at a young age.

While genetic predisposition plays a significant role in some instances, lifestyle and environmental factors primarily contribute to the increased incidence of bowel cancer among the young population.

Bowel cancer – Signs to watch out for

While we are on the topic, the interests of protecting your health and the health of those around you, common symptoms of bowel cancer can include:

  • Persistent change in bowel habits: This can be a change in the frequency, consistency, or shape of your bowel movements.

  • Blood in the poo: You might notice bright red or dark blood.

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort: This can be continuous or come and go.

  • Unexplained weight loss: Losing weight without trying can be a sign of bowel cancer.

  • Fatigue and weakness: Feeling tired and weak even with enough rest.

  • Anemia: Low levels of red blood cells, leading to tiredness and pale skin.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other less serious conditions, but if you experience any persistent or concerning symptoms, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and diagnosis. Early detection can lead to better treatment outcomes. Knowing your family history is also vital. 

Australians are eligible to take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program from the age of 50. However, advocates say it should be reduced to 45.


The alarming increase in bowel cancer incidence rates among young adults is a concerning health issue that requires immediate attention. 

Raising awareness, early detection through screening and genetic testing, and a concerted attempt to encourage the young to adopt healthy eating habits (yes, we know, it’s hard, but it’s a battle that we’ve just got to find a way to win) and lifestyles, are essential in combating this growing health concern. 

⁠If you or a loved one, no matter your age, are experiencing bowel cancer symptoms, please reach out to your GP.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *