Young-onset colon cancer is on the rise and this habit’s to blame

As a member of the millennial generation (albeit, an older one), there’s something that really freaks me out…

The rising cancer rates among young adults.

A new study published in The Lancet Public Health shows that rates for at least six different cancers are increasing rapidly in adults under 50: colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, gallbladder cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, and multiple myeloma.

To give you an idea how these cancers affect younger adults compared to older adults, here’s a statistic for you…

Adults born around 1985 (older millennials like me) have double the risk of colorectal, endometrial, pancreatic and gallbladder cancers as people born around 1950 did at the same age. Yikes!

Whether you fall into this age group or your kids or grandkids do, the question we all need to answer is… how do we fix this?

And while the answer to that question isn’t a simple or brief one, I do know a way young women can lower their risk for at least one of these cancers by a remarkable 70 percent…

Colorectal cancer is tied to too much TV

Even though this latest study identified six different cancers on the rise in young adults, for several years, we’ve heard about one particular cancer that’s popping up in the under 50 set more often than ever — colorectal cancer.

The rise in colorectal cancer in adults under 50 is surprising, especially since it’s the exact opposite demographic that are usually targeted by the disease.

Even worse, young-onset colorectal cancer (diagnosed under age 50) tends to be more serious than the older-onset version. It’s more aggressive and often found at a later stage.

But there’s one lifestyle change that could help young women lower their risk of this scary cancer significantly — watching less TV.

Related: The vitamin proven to boost the odds against colon cancer

A new study published in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum found that women who watch more than two hours per day of TV have a 70 percent higher risk of young-onset colorectal cancer. Even women who watch more than one hour of TV per day have a 12 percent higher risk.

If you’re thinking that watching more TV means you exercise less and are probably heavier, which is why cancer risk goes up, that’s not it entirely. Researchers found that this increased risk existed independently of BMI and exercise levels. It also occurred in women without a family history of colorectal cancer, so you can’t blame it on genes either.

Taming your TV addiction

As a member of a generation facing a crazy increase in cancer risk, I’ve never heard a better reason to cut back on TV time. And I’m someone who could. I watch more hours of TV per day than I’d like to admit.

If you’re prone to unhealthy TV viewing habits like me, it’s time to make a change. Limit yourself to one hour per day of true crime documentaries, premium cable dramas, Netflix originals, and other addictive programming… max.

I know it won’t be easy (as I’m writing this, Netflix sent me an email about two new documentaries I’m dying to watch), but your health depends on it. Just think about all the active ways you can spend those 2+ hours every day that will enrich your health and life. You can:

  • Go out dancing
  • Go for a walk
  • Learn photography, drawing, painting or sculpting
  • Finally get your attic, garage, closet, (fill-in-the-blank) organized
  • Start a yoga practice
  • Join a local sports team
  • Take a cooking class
  • Practice tai chi
  • Volunteer at a local animal shelter
  • Get a part-time job you enjoy, like working at a museum, bookstore or your favorite clothing shop (hello, employee discount!)
  • Offer to babysit for a friend or family member who needs a night off
  • Plant a garden (if it’s too cold outside, plant an indoor container garden)
  • Audition for a play with a local theater troupe
  • Join a choir
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Play tennis, badminton or pickleball


  1. Emerging cancer trends among young adults in the USA: analysis of a population-based cancer registryThe Lancet Public Health
  2. Obesity-related cancers rising fastest among millennials, study finds — NBC News
  3. Study Finds Sharp Rise in Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer Rates Among Young Adults — American Cancer Society
  4. New study shows sitting, watching TV linked to colorectal cancer risk before age 50 — MedicalXpress
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and