Bowel cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer if diagnosed at an early stage. Researchers have discovered four red flag symptoms that appear as early as two years before diagnosis.

Colorectal cancer or bowel cancer is a cancer that starts in the large bowel (colon) and rectum. The condition usually begins as small noncancerous polyps inside the colon, which grow to become colon cancer over time.

Who is at risk?

  • Colorectal cancer often affects older adults, although the disease can strike at any age. The average age at which bowel cancer is diagnosed in men is 68 and for women, it is 72.
  • Race is a crucial factor that determines the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Black people are at the highest risk of getting colorectal cancer. It is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Black people.
  • Men are at a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer compared to women.
  • New studies have shown that colorectal cancer may run in the family if first-degree relatives have it.
  • Smoking increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Eating more red meat and processed meat also increases the risk.
  • People with long-term inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease or with a history of non-cancerous growths are at increased risk.
  • Being overweight and having a sedentary lifestyle can raise the risk of bowel cancer.

Symptoms to watch out for

The new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, warns people to watch out for four signs that appear between three months and two years before the diagnosis.

The symptoms are abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea and iron-deficiency anemia.

"These red flags may be key to earlier detection and diagnosis of early-onset colorectal cancer among younger adults," the researchers said.

Other findings of the study

Researchers found that people with symptoms of rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia need timely endoscopies and follow-ups.

"Having a single one of the symptoms almost doubled the risk; having two symptoms increased risk by more than 3.5 times; and having three or more boosted the risk by more than 6.5 times," they wrote.

The study showed an increasing trend of colorectal cancer among young adults. The team found that people born in 1990 have double the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared with those born in 1950.

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The US Preventive Services Task Force's newly updated recommendations emphasize that most screening methods can substantially cut down the risk of dying from colorectal cancer for adults aged 50 to 75. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Fight Colorectal Cancer