December 15, 2017
2 min read

Colon cancer often misdiagnosed in young patients

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A survey of young-onset colorectal cancer survivors showed that many faced barriers to screening due to their age, and that most were initially misdiagnosed and then diagnosed with late-stage disease.

These and other results are alarming, and highlight the need for reducing barriers to screening in young patients so the disease can be caught and treated early, according to the national nonprofit Colorectal Cancer Alliance that conducted the survey.

“We received responses from 26 countries on six continents that together show a global issue of colorectal cancer impacting people under the age of 50, demanding further research and deliberate action to save lives,” Patrice Brown, senior director of program development at the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in a press release. “Far too often we hear stories about colorectal cancer impacting young lives. This report gatherers these stories in one place, giving voice to the unique challenges of young-onset patients and survivors.”

The Alliance surveyed 1,535 young-onset colorectal cancer (CRC) survivors over 1 month. All survivors received a diagnosis younger than age 50, an age group in whom CRC rates are increasing.

The results showed that 82% were initially misdiagnosed, and 73% presented with late-stage disease. Additionally, 71% received a colon cancer diagnosis, 20% received a rectal cancer diagnosis, 67% saw at least two doctors before receiving a cancer diagnosis, 62% had no family history of CRC, and 15% said an ER visit led to a colonoscopy and their CRC diagnosis.

Patients also reported “challenges related to symptoms being taken seriously by doctors when seeking a diagnosis, finding-age appropriate support, and sexual function during and after treatment,” according to the press release.

“This survey report puts a much-needed focus on the experience of young-onset colorectal cancer patients and survivors, who are experiencing subpar care due to a lack of understanding about this issue among physicians and young people alike,” Michael Sapienza, CEO of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, said in the press release. “The Alliance stands ready to make a positive impact in this area, but data is prerequisite — this report will help shape our efforts.”

The Alliance said it is investing $3 million in research for young-onset CRC over 3 years, and will announce the recipient of a $125,000 peer-reviewed research grant from the Chris4Life Research Program in January.

In the report, the Alliance noted that National Cancer Institute data show CRC rates in patients aged 20 to 49 years have increased by 51% since 1994, “and without taking action, researchers predict that by 2030, ‘more than 1 in 10 colon cancers and nearly 1 in 4 rectal cancers will be diagnosed in people younger than the traditional screening age.’” – by Adam Leitenberger


Colorectal Cancer Alliance. 2017 Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Survey Report. Accessed Dec. 14, 2017.

Disclosures: The report was supported by Taiho Oncology.