Breaking News
More () »

Cases of colorectal cancer on the rise among younger Americans

Twin Cities woman diagnosed at 34 years old shares her story

MINNEAPOLIS — Bridgette O'Brien says the signs were subtle.

"It was the summer of 2019. I was having some minor pains and I ended up going to the doctor," she says. 

The timing also wasn't great.

"I was 34 years old. I had a one year old and a four year old at the time and we had just moved back to Minnesota."

But when it comes to cancer — especially colorectal cancer — the when, the how and the why often defy our own understanding. 

"I found out that I was diagnosed at stage four, which mean it was metastatic and it had gone to my liver," O'Brien said. "So when I first got diagnosed, I had a mass in my colon and I had 15 tumors in my liver. It was quite a shock."

She says since that diagnosis, life has been a roller coaster of ups....

"It was an eight-hour surgery, removing a foot of my colon and all the tumors in my liver."

And downs...

"Three months later I had a recurrence. So it came back in my liver, so I had five tumors that came back in the fall of 2020."

And then more downs....

"I found out in the summer of 2022 that it had moved to my lungs. So I had lung surgery in July of 2022."

O'Brien's story is part of a larger trend — colorectal cancer patients are getting younger and younger, according to a report this month from the American Cancer Society. 

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. 

"The death rate from colorectal cancer has actually been decreasing substantially — over 50% decrease in the death rate since 1970," said Dr. Emil Lou, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Masonic Cancer Center.

"One in five people with a new diagnosis of colorectal cancer is younger than age 55. We really need to figure out why."

Dr. Lou says family history doesn't seem to play a major role as less than 10% of cases are linked to that. 

"People who are smokers, may drink a lot of alcohol, or eat a lot of processed or fried, fatty foods will be at increased risk," he said.

With this hitting younger populations, it may change how we look at colonoscopies.

"The American Cancer Society recommended .... in 2018 the age be reduced to 45," Lou said. "I won't be surprised if the next few years the recommendation becomes 40."

Dr. Lou says among the symptoms to look out for, blood in your stool, and abdominal pain that you don't recognize or not caused by something that is identifiable.

O'Brien says she would support lowering the recommendations, knowing that screening saved her life.

"Just like you go to an eye doctor or a dentist, you know? I'd love that," she said. "It could be available for people at a younger age."

Until that happens, O'Brien urges that people stay in tune with their body.

"Making sure you get checked, go to your annual physicals, you know, talk to your doctor about anything that you feel it is not feeling right in your body is important," she said. 

O'Brien is in the clear as of right now, but she still does daily maintenance chemotherapy and infusions every few months to prevent the cancer from coming back. 

She has partnered up with the Colon Cancer Coalition to bring awareness to the disease and remind people that early detection could save your life. 


Download the free KARE 11+ app for Roku, Fire TV, and other smart TV platforms to watch more from KARE 11 anytime! The KARE 11+ app includes live streams of all of KARE 11's newscasts. You'll also find on-demand replays of newscasts; the latest from KARE 11 Investigates, Breaking the News and the Land of 10,000 Stories; exclusive programs like Verify and HeartThreads; and Minnesota sports talk from our partners at Locked On Minnesota. 

Watch more local news:

Watch the latest local news from the Twin Cities in our YouTube playlist:

Before You Leave, Check This Out