3 types of cancer are affecting more young people, according to an expert. She shared how to lower your risk and catch signs early.

Young woman in a hospital bed.
Cases of colorectal, breast, and cervical cancer are rising in younger populations.Getty Images
  • Rates of certain types of cancer are rising in younger people.

  • There's an upward trend of colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers in people under 50.

  • A cancer expert shares 3 tips for catching signs early or lowering your risk.

Cancer tends to be considered an older person's disease, but cases among younger people are rising.

There's an upward trend in colorectal, cervical, and breast cancer cases in people under 50, Christina Annunziata, senior vice president of extramural discovery science at the American Cancer Society, told Business Insider.

Colorectal cancer —sometimes called colon or rectal cancer, depending on where it started — is now the leading cause of cancer death for men under 50 and the second deadliest for women in the same age group, according to the ACS's 2024 Cancer statistics. Colorectal cancer deaths of people under 55 have increased by about 1% a year since the mid-2000s, the ACS said.

Cases of breast cancer in women have been increasing by about 0.6% a year since the mid-2000s, but the rise is a little steeper in women younger than 50 than in those 50 and older.

Meanwhile, cervical cancer cases are increasing in women aged between 30 and 44. The incidence rate for women in this age group increased by 1.7% a year from 2012 to 2019. However, in that same time period, cases among women aged between 20 and 24 declined by 11% a year, likely due to the HPV vaccine, the ACS said.

"The youngest are doing better since the advocation of the vaccine, but there's a population sort of in their 30s that are having more cervical cancer," Annunziata said.

The good news is that there are screening tests available for these particular types of cancer, making early or even pre-cancerous detection possible.

"I think we do have the opportunity to reverse that trend if people follow with their screening," she said. "It is concerning if no action is taken."

Annunziata shared three things that could help younger people reduce their risk of developing cancer or increase the chance of catching it early.

Know your family history

It's important to know if any cancers run in your family and at what age your family member developed them, Annunziata said.

Hereditary cancers tend to arise earlier than cancer that's not inherited. "So if there is a gene, a mutation that's inherited in the family, that cancer will show up in the family at earlier ages," she said.

Almost one in three people diagnosed with colorectal cancer before the age of 50 have either a family history of the disease or a genetic predisposition, the ACS said. For example, if you have Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition, your risk of developing colorectal cancer goes up by 20 to 80%.

Having the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene mutation, which runs in families, meanwhile increases the likelihood of developing breast cancer by 45% to 85%, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

"Just knowing your family history can be very important in judging your own risk and also convincing or conveying to the doctor that this is something that they should be concerned about," she said.

Advocate for yourself in the doctor's office

General signs of cancer, such as weight loss, fatigue, and nausea, can be very vague, Annunziata said, so it's important to advocate for yourself if you think something feels off.

Particularly if you are young and otherwise healthy, doctors are likely to put symptoms down to something else. "When younger people show up with concerning symptoms, sometimes cancer is not the first thing on the doctor's mind because other things are much more common in younger people," she said.

Signs of cancer can be similar to far less serious health conditions, but if something doesn't get better, it's best to get it looked at, Annunziata said.

Get screened

Colorectal, cervical, and breast cancers are all screenable, and the earlier you find cancer, the easier it is to treat, she said.

Breast cancer screening should start in the 40s if there's no known family history and earlier if there is, she said, and cervical cancer screening should start in the teens or 20s.

"That's a simple test that could be done in the doctor's office that can detect earlier cervical cancer or even pre-cancerous lesions that can be removed and prevent the development of cancer," she said.

You should start getting screened for colorectal cancer at 45, the ACS said. There are multiple screening tools available.

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