'Alarming' rise in people born in 1990s being diagnosed with bowel cancer

A Somerset-based cancer charity is urging young people to 'know their normal' as cases of bowel cancer among younger adults has shown an alarming increase.

Recent studies have shown that cases of bowel cancer among people aged 20-39 have increased dramatically. The studies show that people born in the 90s are now more likely to be diagnosed with bowel and rectal cancers than those born in the 70s.

Similar trends have been observed across the globe, with early onset colon and rectal cancer estimated to become the leading cause of cancer death in individuals aged 20-49 years by 2030.

The reasons for this sharp increase are unknown, however studies suggest that genetics, family history, the gut microbiome, delayed diagnosis and low screening rates may play a role.

Abby Morris, 35, lives in Frome in Somerset. She founded the Bowel Movement following the death of her brother Benjamin Millard at the age of 33.

Benjamin regularly went to the gym, ate well and was well below the national screening age for Bowel Cancer which is currently 60 in England, 55 in Wales and 50 in Scotland. 

Abby said: “After numerous visits to the GP, Benj was eventually identified as anaemic and at risk of heart failure.

"Following an urgent colonoscopy, he was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer which had spread to his lymph nodes and other organs.

"He was immediately placed onto palliative care, meaning any treatment he received was to prolong his life rather than cure his disease. Sadly, after a gruelling seven months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy he entered a hospice and died."

She described his loss as leaving an "immeasurable" hole in his loved-ones lives but said they are passionate about channeling their grief into something positive.

“As a charity, we want to challenge the misconception that young people don’t get bowel cancer," she said.

"Our aim is to normalise conversations around our bowel habits and to help raise awareness of the common signs and symptoms, particularly among other young adults.”

Benj Millard's family set up The Bowel Movement charity in his honour Credit: Family photo

Despite being the second largest cancer killer in the UK, bowel cancer is highly treatable and even curable if caught early, with 90% of stage one patients surviving five years or more. Yet, an increasing number of young adults are being diagnosed when their cancer is at a more advanced stage, meaning treatment options can be limited, treatment is often more complex and expensive and sadly long-term outcomes are poorer. 

When asked, a recent YouGov survey found that 38% of people across the UK were unable to name a single symptom of bowel cancer and half of young people surveyed in the Never Too Young Report were unaware that they could even develop bowel cancer at a young age. This lack of knowledge and awareness has been shown to delay the likelihood of someone seeking medical help when presenting with symptoms and delays to diagnosis can cost lives. 

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month in the UK and The Bowel Movement Charity is urging everyone to become familiar with the common signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. Their ‘#KnowYourNormal’ campaign aims to encourage young adults to visit their GP if they notice any persistent changes which last for three weeks or more. Importantly, not all symptoms need to be present before seeing medical advice. 

The common symptoms of bowel cancer

  • Bleeding from your bottom or blood in your stools

  • Obvious change in bowel habits such as persistent diarrhoea or constipation

  • Weight loss for no explained reason

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Lump or pain in your tummy or bottom

Symptoms can also include, bloating, discomfort from food, mucus in your stools, cramping, low back pain, and anaemia. These symptoms can also indicate other medical conditions.