It’s March and we’re mad. You should be, too.

We need to talk.

It’s March, which means it’s Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a time when we bring greater attention and focus to the issue of colorectal cancer and its staggering impact.

This March, we’re furious.

Currently, the recommended screening age is 50. And if you’re not having symptoms and have no family history or significant risks, 50 might be the right age. But for so many people, 50 is not nearly soon enough. What’s more, many people aren’t being screened AT 50, but rather are waiting until sometime in their late fifties or early sixties.

At our last fundraiser, the Bottoms Up Bash, we hear a speech delivered by two young women who lost their father to colon cancer. He waited until 60 to be screened. Had he been screened at 50, he’d likely still be with them.

Many providers don’t begin to talk about colorectal cancer with their patients until the patient turns 50. You may be one of those patients. Doctors follow guidelines set forth by organizations like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association, to name a few. The current recommendation is for a colorectal cancer screening age of 50.

But as we’re seeing from the data, we’re missing an awful lot of people by waiting until 50 to begin the conversation. This is particularly obvious when you consider the fact that rates of colorectal cancer in individuals under the age of 50 are increasing sharply.

We must create change.

You should know:

  1. We know there is an alarming increase in colon and especially rectal cancers in the under age 50 age group. Soon 20% of all rectal cancers will occur under the age of 50.
  1. We know that to better tailor screening age, the accurate family history needs to be identified long before the age of 50 (preferably before but certainly by age 40) in order to deliver screenings to those most at risk due to genetic or familial factors.
  1. We know that due to a timely lack of awareness and understanding, most sporadic (non-genetic) cases of colon and rectal cancer occurring under the age of 50 have a significant delay in notification of the provider and then an additional delay in appropriate timely diagnosis once in the system. Many occurrences of colorectal cancer in people under the age of 50 are misdiagnosed. 
  1.  We know that only about half of asymptomatic, normal risk individuals are screened anytime during their fifties because their providers didn’t being talking about colon cancer until their 50th birthday. This means that only half of these individuals are screened in their fifties – the other half wait. As we’ve seen time and time again, that might be too late.
  1. We know that there are lifestyle changes that can prevent colorectal cancer – but they are most effective when they begin early (i.e. long before 50). Smoking cessation, dietary changes like avoiding red or processed meats, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight are but a few, powerful, evidence-based ways to reduce your risk. It is never too late, however, to make positive, healthy change!

Karen Walsh was 40 when she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. She didn’t know the symptoms. She didn’t know that the fact that her grandmother had colon cancer or that both of her parents had polyps removed put her at advanced risk. She hadn’t been told. How many Karens are there in the world who, as they fight their battle with colon cancer, can ask, “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

That question haunts us. It should haunt everyone who works in healthcare, health advocacy, health education, or colon cancer specific outreach. Why didn’t
we tell them?

We’ve had enough. The evidence is clear – colorectal cancer is on the rise in individuals under 50 and we are doing them an immense disservice by not fighting to change the standards. We need to talk about colon cancer well before the age of 50. We need to talk to our families and our loved ones to get a complete family history. We need to advocate for ourselves to our doctors. We need to fight to tell people about colon cancer.

As we speak, hundred of passionate individuals are in Washington, D.C. for the Call on Congress. They are actively advocating to our elected representatives for better colorectal cancer policy and education. It’s so very important that our voices are heard.

There are two things you can do:

  1. Sign up for the Virtual Lobby Day (Wednesday, March 15). Fight CRC and the Call on Congress groups will make advocating a completely painless process for you. Please sign up and make your voice heard.
  2. Sign and share the Policy for On-time Information Petition (POTI). (It’s pronounced “potty” because, well, you know.)  This is another opportunity to speak out for better colorectal cancer policy and education. If you’re fed up too, we hope you’ll sign.

People deserve better. They deserve to have all of the information and tools to prevent colorectal cancer. They deserve to have these tools in time to use them.

Don’t forget – lives are at stake. Your life could be at stake. Please help us save those lives and prevent colorectal cancer. Your voice matters and your help will make all the difference.