Colorectal Cancer in Children

Study Says Children Tend to Fare Worse Than Adults

Young Girl Receiving Chemotherapy Treatment
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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.

How Common Is Colorectal Cancer in Children?

With an occurrence rate of about three childhood cases of colorectal cancer for every 15 million kids, it's little wonder doctors 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 physicians 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 non-cancerous, 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 doctor 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 physician. 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 doctor know if further testing or simply monitoring the condition would be best for your child. 

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