Colorectal Cancer in Children

Study Says Children Tend to Fare Worse Than Adults

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition determined that children with colorectal cancer don't tend to fare as well as adults with the disease. The researchers attributed this prognosis to two factors. They found that tumors in children are more aggressive than those in adults, and due to stigmas that colorectal cancer is an elderly disease, kids tend to be diagnosed later than adults.

Young Girl Receiving Chemotherapy Treatment
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How Common Is Colorectal Cancer in Children?

Childhood colorectal cancer is rare. Fewer than 100 U.S. children younger than 20 are affected each year, about one in a million. It's little wonder healthcare providers seldom suspect the disease. Defining the term children as anyone nineteen years or younger, it is very rare to find a primary colon cancer. Based on what we know about colon cancer – primarily that most polyps take about 10 years or so to mutate into cancer and not all polyps herald cancer – it's no surprise that we aren't used to thinking of children and colorectal cancer in the same sentence.

Lessons Learned

As the parent of a youth, this is where you come in. The researchers recommended that healthcare providers pay particular attention to children with predisposing factors like a family history of colorectal cancer, predisposing genetic factors or if your child suffers undiagnosed rectal bleeding.

As a parent myself, I will grant you the peace of mind that although stomach pain can be a sign of colorectal cancer, there is no need to fret every time your son or daughter complains of a belly ache. Stomach pains are a very common complaint in little ones and are usually caused by noncancerous, benign conditions such as diarrhea or constipation, gastrointestinal viruses, or stomach upset from trying a new food.

However, if you do have a positive family history of colorectal cancer or any predisposing genetic factors, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) syndrome, or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) syndrome, it is advised that you have your child thoroughly evaluated by a healthcare provider soonest.

More Resources

  • Can I Inherit Colon Cancer? This article encompasses a broad overview of the different factors that may warrant genetic testing, early colorectal cancer screening in children, and some of the rarer genetic dispositions that can precede colon cancer in kids.
  • Protecting Young Colons. This article highlights things you can do, as a parent, to help your child achieve the best gastrointestinal health possible. 

In the absence of a familial history, the best thing you can do as a parent is to schedule and attend your child's annual well-child check-up appointments with his or her regular healthcare provider. Likewise, if your child has concerning symptoms – assuming that they are not life-threatening – it is beneficial to report these symptoms to his or her pediatrician so that the severity, frequency, and type of concern can be closely followed and paired with your child's medical history. This helps your healthcare provider know if further testing or simply monitoring the condition would be best for your child. 

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kravarusic D, Feigin E, Dlugy E, et al. Colorectal carcinoma in childhood: a retrospective multicenter study. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2007;44(2):209-11. doi:10.1097/01.mpg.0000252195.84084.52

  2. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Colorectal carcinoma.

  3. Jasperson KW, Tuohy TM, Neklason DW, Burt RW. Hereditary and familial colon cancer. Gastroenterology. 2010;138(6):2044-58. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2010.01.054

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