Colorectal Cancer and Younger Adults — New Insights You Need to Know

New research from the Salk Institute suggests that genetic mutations and diet combine to enable these cancers to thrive.

Here’s how this works:

  • The intestine and colon together form the area of the body called “the gut.”
  • Under normal conditions, the gut is highly acidic. That’s necessary to breakdown the food products that enter it from the stomach.
  • However, the acid also damages the lining of the gut. Stem cells in the gut exist to create new cells to repair the lining.
  • A gene named the APC controls the division of cells (cell growth). However, a mutation in that gene can cause the control function to stop working.
  • When the mutation exists with a diet high in fats, cell reproduction accelerates. Cancer is rapid, uncontrolled cell reproduction.

There is a genetic test for the presence of the APC mutation, and the mutation is associated with other cancer sites in the body.

What we don’t know is what causes the mutation. However, we do know that environmental pollutants have been known to produce mutations in other genes.

Why is this important? We’re seeing a small but steady increase in colorectal cancer among younger adults (between the ages of 20 and 50) and even among teens. In seeking for a reason for this increase, researchers have turned to the combination of mutation and diet to explain what’s happening. Genetics or the environment can contribute the mutation; all those trips to fast food restaurants provide the fat.

There are no insurance guidelines for screening younger adults for colorectal cancer. There should be. That’s a conversation you need to have with your doctor. A young person dying from this cancer is horrible. Having the colon removed and living with a plastic bag hanging from the waist to collect waste matter, is pretty grim as well. No one in their teens or 20s deserves that, but it’s happening.



2 Ting Fu, Sally Coulter, Eiji Yoshihara, Tae Gyu Oh, Sungsoon Fang, Fritz Cayabyab, Qiyun Zhu, Tong Zhang, Mathias Leblanc, Sihao Liu, Mingxiao He, Wanda Waizenegger, Emanuel Gasser, Bernd Schnabl, Annette R. Atkins, Ruth T. Yu, Rob Knight, Christopher Liddle, Michael Downes, Ronald M. Evans. FXR Regulates Intestinal Cancer Stem Cell Proliferation. Cell, 2019; 176 (5): 1098 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2019.01.036

3 Salk Institute. “Scientists uncover how high-fat diet drives colorectal cancer growth: Experimental drug candidate slows cancer progression in mouse model.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2019. <>.

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