Increased rates of colon cancer among younger patients highlights need for education on symptoms and screening

March 24, 2022

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Prisma Heath wants to alert its communities that according to National Cancer Institute rates of colorectal cancer in young people have steadily risen in recent years, and healthcare providers are concerned that the trend of people delaying health screening during COVID-19 pandemic will cause numbers to rise even more.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and American Cancer Society both recommend that adults begin regular screening at age 45 instead of 50. Those experiencing symptoms such as rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation or stomach discomfort need to call their doctor to look into whether earlier screening is needed.

Cedrek McFadden, MDYounger patients who put off screening are more likely to ascribe potential symptoms of colon cancer to side effects of medications, aging or diet changes, which can dangerously delay diagnosis and effective treatment, said Cedrek McFadden, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Prisma Health in the Upstate. This trend, paired with the effects of COVID-19 on routine screenings, may potentially cause increased risk of more serious or less treatable disease when eventually discovered, he added.

Prisma Health patient Carlos Galloway, 45, identified his cancer early after paying attention to his unusual symptoms such as blood in his stool. Despite no family history of colorectal cancer, he was diagnosed with the disease in February 2021. He successfully completed surgery and did not need further treatment.

“The only person responsible for your health is you. It’s important to pay attention to your body, pay attention to things that don’t feel right,” says Galloway, a technician with Michelin who lives in Blue Ridge with his wife Denise.

He had already been touched by cancer in too many ways – he has lost several family members to other kinds of cancer. He said the family’s experience with cancer prompted him to act urgently so he requested a referral to a specialist.

“Not everyone has the outcome I did because I was able to catch it early,” said Galloway. “I feel blessed to have caught it and be able to treat my cancer without chemo or radiation. I’m grateful for the support I have, from both my family and Dr. McFadden.”

Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but those under 50 have roughly doubled their share of overall U.S. colon and rectal cancer cases in the past decade. Colorectal cancer is on track to nearly double in people under 50 by the year 2030, said McFadden.

“As a surgeon who sees firsthand the ramifications of a delayed diagnosis of colorectal cancer, I want the community to know how important it is to pay attention to the symptoms, regardless of your age or gender,” said McFadden. “If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, take them seriously and get checked by a doctor. The earlier we are at finding the cancer, the better we are at a cure.”

Colorectal cancer can develop in anyone, but those with a history of polyps or other digestive or bowel diseases are at increased risk. Anyone with a family history of colorectal cancer should be screened ideally 10 years before the age of the diagnosis of their family member when diagnosed with the disease.

Common symptoms include rectal bleeding, pain, changes in stools or bowel habits, stomach discomfort, diarrhea, constipation, constant fatigue, vomiting or unexplained weight loss.

Prisma Health strongly encourages those at risk due to age or family history to consider rescheduling any appointments that have been postponed.

“Many people choose to avoid colonoscopies because they sound intimidating, but they’re not. Patients undergo gentle sedation and sleep through the procedure; even the prep is much easier than in the past. More important, this procedure can provide patients enormous piece of mind – or critical information on how to treat issues that may be found, said McFadden.

Colorectal cancer can develop in anyone, but those with a history of polyps or other digestive or bowel diseases are at increased risk. Anyone with a family history of colorectal cancer should be screened ideally 10 years before the age of their family member when diagnosed. Eating healthy and exercising, as well as getting screened regularly, can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

About Prisma Health

Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and the largest healthcare system in South Carolina. With nearly 30,000 team members, 18 hospitals, 2,947 beds and more than 300 physician practice sites, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million unique patients annually. Its goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care, as well as conducting clinical research and training the next generation of medical professionals. For more information, visit