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Bowel cancer death rates expected to rise in patients under 50  

Published: 29th January 2024
Young female patient speaking to healthcare professional.

Obesity, alcohol consumption and reduced physical activity drive a projected increase in bowel cancer incidence.  

A study published in the journal Annals of Oncology predicts that bowel cancer mortality is set to rise by a third in patients under 50 in the UK. In women, death rate rates are predicted to increase by 39%, and by 26% in men.  

Findings urge increased attention to improving lifestyle factors and recommend implementing population screening for early cancer diagnosis as a key strategy for cancer prevention.  

The study lead, Professor Carolo La Vecchia, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the University of Milan, said: “Early onset bowel cancer tends to be more aggressive, with lower survival rates, compared to bowel cancer that is diagnosed in older people”.  

“Key factors that contribute to the rise in bowel cancer rates among young people include overweight, obesity and related health conditions, such as high blood sugar levels and diabetes. Additional reasons are increases in heavier alcohol drinking over time in central and northern Europe and the UK, and reductions in physical activity.” 


According to Cancer Research UK, colorectal cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 11% of all new cancer cases (2016-2018).  

Early diagnosis  

Common symptoms of bowel cancer can include: 

  • Change in bowel habit 
  • Rectal bleeding  
  • Abdominal pain or lump 
  • Fatigue  
  • Unexplained weight loss   


Bowel cancer screening reduces a patient’s risk of dying from bowel cancer by at least 25% (NHS England) 

FIT is a valuable screening tool for detecting bowel cancer in both asymptomatic populations and symptomatic patients presenting with lower abdominal symptoms, particularly in primary care. 

It is important to remember that the sensitivity threshold when using FIT for bowel cancer screening is much higher (120-150 µg/g) than when used for symptomatic patients (10µg/g), therefore a negative screening FIT should not be a reassuring factor. 

Dr Roger Prudham, Consultant Gastroenterologist, said: You can use a FIT in any patient where you have symptoms that you think might be caused by colorectal cancer, whatever age, whatever problems they have, it’s perfectly reasonable to do a FIT test.” 

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