Bowel cancer is on the rise in people under 50, but it is stabilising or declining in older adults.

Most young Australians are oblivious to the risk, according to a report by Bowel Cancer Australia.

A survey by the organisation shows that almost 80% of young Australians diagnosed were unaware of their risk before being diagnosed.

This is leading to many under 50s delaying seeing a doctor and ultimately being diagnosed at stages 3 and 4  (where the cancer has already spread from the bowel to the lymph nodes or other organs).

Colorectal surgeon and Bowel Cancer Australia director Associate Professor Graham Newstead says increases in obesity rates and sedentary lifestyles, along with a growing reliance on processed food could potentially explain the trend in young people.

“We are now starting to see the full impact of diet and lifestyle in the younger generation,” he says.

An Australian study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2014 shows the incidence of colorectal cancer among people in their 20s has doubled over the past two decades.

Rates have also risen 35% among those in their 30s.

Binge drinking among teens and young adults could be another factor for the increase, say the researchers, as could changed sleep patterns and recreational drug use.

According to the study, patients diagnosed under the age of 50 have a poorer survival for the first 20 months after surgery, but thereafter survival rates are around the same as for older patients.


Amanda Davey is Medical Journalist/Editor at

Last Reviewed: 29/05/2015



Rising incidence of early-onset colorectal cancer in Australia over two decades: Report and review. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Volume 30, Issue 1, Article first published online: 23 DEC 2014. (accessed May 2015).