Little is known about the cancer-related knowledge, attitudes and health behaviours of older adults (> 55 years), or about designing health promotion and early detection interventions responsive to their learning needs. A collaborative project was established with the intent of designing an appropriate program for older adults. The initial work included a community needs assessment using focus groups, one-on-one interviews and self-report surveys. The use of key community contacts was effective in locating older adult subjects (> 55 years) through pre-established linkages with agencies. Various ethnocultural groups, low income communities and isolated individuals, as well as other pre-established groups, were included in this study. The needs assessment found that: age is not perceived as a cancer risk factor; transportation is a barrier to screening; fear inhibits people from being screened; physicians are viewed as both the main source of expert cancer knowledge and as the gatekeepers to screening; family and peers are the main source of support, ethnospecific groups have different information needs; and finally, that lifestyle suggestions can reduce the risk of cancer. The findings indicated that community health promotion programs for older adults will require multiple approaches with a combination of strategies in order to meet their learning needs.