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Cancer Care

Early onset cancers are on the rise in Canada

By June 18, 2024No Comments

Early onset cancers are on the rise in Canada. This is defined as cancers diagnosed between the ages 18-49. Many people in this age group are too young for recommended screening or their concerns are not taken seriously by their primary health care provider. This often means that a diagnosis is made at a more advanced stage and therefore more difficult to treat. Also, younger onset cancers often present as more aggressive cancers than if they had been diagnosed later in life. 

Advocating for screening procedures can save lives. For example, if a first degree relative had colon cancer or polyps, a colonoscopy should start 10 to 15 years before their age of diagnosis. Likewise with breast cancer, ask for a mammogram and breast ultrasound 10 to 15 years before your first-degree relatives’ age of diagnosis. British Columbia has adopted HPV testing, which is much more sensitive at detecting cervical cancer than the traditional PAP test. Genetic testing can look for mutations that can increase risks. Risk assessment tools are also available online. Attached to this article is the IBIS – breast cancer risk evaluation tool and Colorectal Cancer Risk Assessment Tool: Online Calculator.

Many theories have surfaced as to why younger people are getting cancers at higher rates than their parents. Lung cancer rates have declined thanks to campaigns against smoking. However, rates of colon, kidney and thyroid cancer are on a dramatic rise.

Increasing rates of young onset obesity have been associated with several cancers such as endometrial, esophageal, kidney and liver. Obesity creates a chronic systemic inflammation which can raise blood markers fueling cancer initiation and progression. Researchers have theorized that it may not just be the obesity itself but also the associated health issues that coexist with obesity such as western diet, poor microbiome, lack of exercise, and metabolic conditions. The western diet includes highly processed foods, these high-fat low-fiber foods contribute to inflammation in the digestive tract which alters the microbiome to be more favourable for increased inflammation and aging cells.

One third of Canadians have tattoos, Millennials, and Gen X by far out tattoo Baby Boomers. A recent study demonstrated that the risk for malignant lymphoma increased by 20% in people with tattoos. Tattoo ink contains carcinogens and heavy metals that may initiate an abnormal immune response. 

Another disturbing trend is emerging in Canada, where diagnosing potential cancer in the Emergency Department is becoming routine as, “Canada’s Primary Care is Falling Apart.” These patients need further testing for a definitive diagnosis but are often left waiting for referrals to a specialist. However, emergency room physicians do not have a process in place to arrange further testing which is necessary for referrals to oncologists. 

It is important to advocate for yourself if you have a family history or symptoms that may be suggestive of cancer. A healthy lifestyle including diet and exercise while limiting alcohol can help to decrease risks. However, we are all exposed to carcinogens in our environment that can increase risks for certain cancers. Naturopathic doctors can help identify risk factors by testing for such things as genetic, toxicity, and/or microbiome analysis. Treatment plans are designed to the individual patient needs. 


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