Colorectal Cancer Rates Are Rising in YAs ― Here's What to Know

February 29, 2024
Young males and females are sharing ideas during group therapy

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly four years since Chadwick Boseman passed away, after quietly living with colon cancer for several years. The late actor and playwright is perhaps most famously known for his role as King T’Challa in the 2018 superhero film Black Panther, and for his portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in the 2013 biographical film 42


Did You Know?

Over his career, Boseman received an Academy Award nomination, a Golden Globe Award, a Primetime Emmy Award, and two Screen Actors Guild Awards, among many other accolades.

Read more about Boseman's gifts and achievements.


Boseman was 39 when he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2016. His diagnosis, which exemplifies the rising trend in colorectal cancer (CRC) among the YA population, has opened the eyes of many young people.

CRC is cancer that develops in the colon or rectum. The National Cancer Institute reports that nearly 18,000 people under the age of 50 will be diagnosed with CRC this year, and that it’s a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50. 

This growing trend among young adults has prompted action. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends that people at average risk for CRC begin screening at 45 years old ― 5 years younger than the previous recommended age. 

Get More Details About Screening Guidelines 


One of the most famous and often quoted Black Panther lines, “Wakanda Forever,” alludes to the idea that a community can continue to move forward after a period of hardship and grief. Hear more about the meaning of Wakanda Forever.

The phrase — which also features in the title of the 2022 Black Panther sequel — has found its place outside of the movie. Notably, it has resonated with young adults after hearing of Boseman’s cancer diagnosis. In the powerful message “Wakanda Forever,” you can see hope for the future.

Use this Black Panther-inspired acronym to learn more about colorectal cancer and the importance of screenings: 

What are the risk factors?   

According to the Colon Cancer Coalition, the biggest risk factors for CRC are based on heredity, personal medical history, and lifestyle habits. These include:  

  • High alcohol consumption  
  • Physical inactivity  
  • Smoking  
  • Obesity
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease
  • Personal history of other cancers such as ovarian, breast, and endometrial
  • African American people, Asian people, and people of Hispanic descent are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease




Age is one of the most important factors to consider when thinking about colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is on the rise among people younger than 50, but CRC remains much more common among people between the ages of 65-74 years old. In the past, colorectal cancer was considered exclusively a diagnosis in the older adult population.  

With the rise in colorectal cancer cases among younger adults across the United States, the USPSTF recommends that people of average risk receive their first CRC screening at age 45 and continue to receive periodic screenings until age 75.  


Know the Symptoms

Being aware of the symptoms of CRC is a great first step in awareness and early detection. The most common symptoms of CRC are:  

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Bloody stool 
  • Dark or black stool 
  • Pain/discomfort in the abdomen  
  • Decreased appetite 
  • A change in bowel habits or shape of the stool 
  • Unintentional weight loss 
  • Urge to have a bowel movement when the bowel is empty 

Note: It is important to remember that early-stage CRC often presents with no symptoms, which accentuates the importance of routine screenings to monitor disease progression.  




A family history of colorectal cancer increases the risk of developing CRC. According to the Colon Cancer Coalition, about 20% of colorectal cancer patients have a close relative with the disease. Hereditary risks include having:  

  • A first-degree relative with colorectal cancer 
  • A relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer under 50
  • More than one relative with colorectal cancer
  • A family history of Lynch syndrome or certain other inherited syndromes 




Colorectal cancer is one of the most stigmatized cancers due to the connection to the digestive tract. Often people are uncomfortable talking about colorectal cancer because the symptoms are related to irregular bowel movements, which is typically a private matter.  

While this apprehension is understandable, it is important to remember that if you are experiencing abnormalities, you should reach out to your healthcare provider. Stigma is one of the main reasons young adults avoid or delay routine screenings. By normalizing CRC symptoms, diagnostic testing, and treatment methods in the young adult population, the chances of early detection and successful treatment are far more likely.  




Research suggests that one of the main causes of early-onset CRC is tied to an unhealthy diet. An unhealthy diet is a risk factor for many cancers, but it is especially prevalent for CRC due to the correlation between an unhealthy diet and high bacteria count in the gut microbiome. High levels of specific bacteria in the microbiome are associated with CRC risk (American Cancer Society).

Diets high in red and processed meats, processed sugar, and refined carbohydrates are known to be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. A diet high in fiber, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables helps lower the risk. Ensuring that you are getting your daily dose of vitamins and minerals, such as folate and calcium, can also help reduce your risk of developing CRC.  



Now that you know more about colorectal cancer, it is time to take action. Routine screening examinations are the best way to detect early-onset CRC. The Colon Cancer Coalition notes that a majority (more than 75%) of CRC diagnoses happen to people who don’t have any of the known risk factors. So, even for people who are not at high risk for CRC, it’s important to follow the USPSTF’s recommended screening guidelines.  


Note: If you are at higher risk for CRC and are younger than 45, ask your healthcare provider whether you should start getting screened before age 45. 


There are several types of colorectal cancer screenings methods, but the most recommended method is the colonoscopy. Generally, physicians prefer the colonoscopy because they can see the entire colon during the procedure and can remove any polyps they may find. Talk to your doctor to determine which screening method is right for you.  

For both young and older adults, it is important to recognize the symptoms and risk factors associated with colorectal cancer. Always talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any abnormalities, and be sure to schedule your routine screenings.   

Are You Behind on These Cancer Screenings?