I'm Only 19. Could I Have Colon Cancer as a Teenager?

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Question:  I was on your site and I'm a little concerned about my risk of colon cancer. I'm only a teenager (19), but I have a family history of diabetes and while I don't smoke, but everyone else in my house does. I've been extremely tired recently even though I'm sleeping more often. My stools are thinner than they used to be. I often feel like I have to have a bowel movement but can't. Also, I've noticed a pain in my lower abdomen when bending certain ways. But I've never heard of a teenager getting colon cancer. Is it possible? If so, is there any test other than a colonoscopy that can diagnose colon cancer?

Answer:  You are worried about your symptoms and whether they may mean you have colon cancer. When it comes to medicine, nothing's impossible. People get things no one ever thought they would and people recover from things no one ever thought possible.

But let's talk about you, in particular. It's great that you know your family medical history. Diabetes is a risk factor for colon cancer (and many other health conditions), so you should keep an eye on your blood sugar. And you're right to worry about living in a house full of smokers. Smoking has been associated with increased colon cancer risk (and a bunch of other unpleasant things) so my advice is to limit your secondhand smoke exposure as much as you can.

Risks of Colorectal Cancer for Teenagers

In general, teenagers aren't likely to get colon cancer. Most people who develop colon cancer don't do so until their fifties or later. But younger people, including teenagers and children, can develop colorectal cancer.

For example, multiple polyps (and potentially tumors) occur in juvenile polyposis. Also, people with FAP have 100 percent chance of developing colorectal cancer (usually by age 45) and people with HNPCC have about an 80 percent chance of developing colorectal cancer. Is there a history of colon cancer in your family?

If so, my advice would be to talk to a doctor about colon cancer screening.

Talk to Your Doctor About Your Symptoms

I also think you should consider talking to a doctor about your symptoms. Something doesn't have to be cancer for it to adversely affect your quality of life. Whatever's going on, a medical professional should be able to help you figure it out and take care of it.

Colon Cancer Testing

Now for your last question. Yes, there are many tests used to diagnose colorectal cancer. The fecal occult blood test is usually used for screening. It simply involves putting your stool on a little card and sending it to the lab. Blood tests will also be done to look at your overall health and for indications there may be a tumor.

If your doctor decides your physical examination warrants further tests, the colonoscopy is the standard test for screening and diagnosing colorectal cancer. But other choices include a sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, CT scan, ultrasound and MRI scans. You can learn more about each of the tests in the Screening section of the colon cancer site.


Colorectral Cancer Prevention and Treatment. National Foundation for Cancer Research. 23 Jun. 2

Colorectal cancer risk factors. American Cancer Society. 02/01/2016. Accessed 02/12/16. 

Tests for colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society. 01/20/2016. Accessed 2/12/16.

Larsson, Susanna C. and Orsini, Nicola. "Diabetes Mellitus and Risk of Colorectal Cancer: A Meta-Analysis." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 97.22 (Nov. 2005): 1679-1687. 24 Jun. 2006.

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