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Colorectal Cancer: Not an Old Person’s Disease

Cartoonish illustration of cancer researchers
Cartoonish illustration of cancer researchers
Elle Doherty, Colorectal Cancer Canada

Elle Doherty

Never Too Young Program Manager, Colorectal Cancer Canada

Rates of colorectal cancer are rising sharply among young and middle-aged individuals, while rates continue to decline in adults aged 55 and over. Young people are often diagnosed at a later stage because they aren’t getting screened and doctors don’t necessarily suspect cancer to develop at a young age.

Early-age onset colorectal cancer

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that those at average risk of colorectal cancer start participating in regular screening at age 50, while those aged 75 and older be in constant communication with their doctor about screening. While screening guidelines have worked to decrease the rate of colorectal cancer in people over 50, rates have increased in young adults. Notably, the US Preventive Services Task Force recently announced that they are considering a draft recommendation to reduce the recommended screening age to 45. 

As the rates of early-age onset colorectal cancer continue to rise, it becomes especially crucial to increase awareness and educate the public about the importance of early screening. If you’re experiencing related signs or symptoms or have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you may be advised to start screening before age 50. Speak to your doctor about your personal testing plan.

Learn how to lower your risk

It’s important to take early action to prevent colorectal cancer. While there’s no sure way to prevent cancer, there are several things you can do to help lower your risk. These include making healthy choices like living smoke-free, limiting your alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy body weight with a nutritious diet and regular physical activity.

Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing:

  • A change in bowel habits such as persisting constipation or diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in stool
  • Narrower-than-normal stools
  • Constant fatigue or anemia
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss or gain

Never Too Young Program

The Never Too Young Program (N2Y) brings much-needed awareness and education to the forefront when it comes to early age onset colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer has risen at an alarming rate in young people and Colorectal Cancer Canada (CCC) is committed to learning more and providing support for those currently in their fight as the needs, interests, and concerns among this population vary greatly compared to their older counterparts. This is vital as incidence among Canadians under 50 is rising significantly. Individuals born after 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer compared to people born around 1950.

N2Y also aims to raise awareness among the general population to increase early detection and improve outcomes for early age onset patients. Currently, CCC is in the process of analyzing and reporting on data gathered through our Never Too Young: Early-Onset CRC Experiences survey.

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