Colon Cancer on the Rise Among Young Adults: 3 Factors that Increase Your Risk

colon cancer ribbon

Once considered a disease of older adults, colon cancer is now becoming more common in people under 50. While the reasons behind this worrisome trend are still unclear, several factors within your control likely play a role. Read on to understand the three most common risk factors you can change or modify to help lower your colon cancer risk. 974

1. Too much sitting; not enough moving.

Younger generations may be less active than their parents and grandparents because of the popularity of smartphones and gaming devices among this group. The rise of remote work, which shows no signs of slowing down, could also be a contributing factor. An estimated 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025; about 22% of the workforce.

The fact is that an inactive lifestyle puts you at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. That’s why experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. If you are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight can significantly reduce your colon cancer risk. But that’s not all. Regular exercise also helps improve your mood and well-being, and can help you manage other conditions, like diabetes and high cholesterol.

2. Unhealthy weight and eating habits.

Junk food, red meat and low-fiber foods also have been associated with a higher risk of colon cancer. The Western or American diet is low in fruits and vegetables, and high in fat and sodium. It also typically consists of large portions, high calories and too much sugar. Experts believe the modern Western diet significantly contributes to the growing rate of obesity in the United States. Try shifting your habits gradually by adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins into your diet. Limit processed foods, red meat and sugary beverages. Eat more fiber-rich foods to help improve your digestion and reduce your risk of colon cancer. 

3. Smoking and excessive drinking.

People who have smoked, vaped or chewed tobacco for a long time are more likely than people who don’t smoke to develop and die from colorectal cancer. Drinking alcohol, even in moderation, is risky and tied to many kinds of cancers. If you drink, limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. This could have many health benefits, including a lower risk of many kinds of cancer.

The takeaway.

Persistent diarrhea or constipation, blood in the stool, abdominal pain or cramping could pinpoint problems with your colon. But these symptoms can be easily dismissed, leading to delays in diagnosis. This is especially true for younger, healthy individuals who may not suspect cancer. As a result, the disease may progress to an advanced stage before it’s detected, making colon cancer screening essential. 

Most people should start colon cancer screening at age 45 or earlier if colon cancer runs in their family. The rise of colon cancer among young adults serves as a stark reminder of the importance of routine checkups and screenings. Listen to your body and talk to your primary care provider about your family’s medical history and concerning symptoms. Ask your primary care provider to create a screening schedule for you.


  1. Remote Work Statistics & Trends In (2024) – Forbes Advisor
  2. Obesity and the Western Diet: How We Got Here – PMC (
  3. Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors | Hereditary Colorectal Risk Factors | American Cancer Society
  4. Take the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator.
  5. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night.

Colon and rectal services
at CHI St. Vincent