Getting Screened for Colon Cancer Is Now Easier than Ever
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital in partnership with Ontario Health (Cancer Care Ontario) is encouraging people ages 50 to 74 to talk to their family doctor or nurse practitioner about getting checked for colon cancer.
Getting checked for colon cancer in Ontario is now easier than ever with the introduction of the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) last year. FIT is a free at-home screening test available across the province for eligible Ontarians through ColonCancerCheck, Ontario’s organized colon cancer screening program.
FIT is a safe and painless test that checks your stool (poop) for tiny amounts of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths on the lining of the colon or rectum that could turn into cancer over time). If the result comes back abnormal, a follow-up colonoscopy is scheduled within eight weeks.
In Ontario, colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death (it is the second most common cause of cancer death in men and the third most common cause of cancer death in women). While a family history of the disease may put a person at higher risk, research shows that almost 70 percent of people who get colon cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
In 2019, approximately 9,100 people in Ontario (about 4,900 men and 4,200 women) were diagnosed with colon cancer and about 3,150 people (1,650 men and 1,500 women) died of the disease. In the South West region, approximately 675 people were diagnosed with colon cancer through screening last year.
“Colon cancer usually develops later in life – over 90 percent of the time in people over age 50,” says Dr. Michael Sey, Regional Endoscopy Lead for the South West Regional Cancer Program. “Many people don’t realize that colon cancer can happen in anyone over 50, which is why it’s so important to stay up-to-date on regular screening.”
The ColonCancerCheck program checks two different groups of people across Ontario for colon cancer:
• People at average risk: ColonCancerCheck recommends that people who are at average risk and have no symptoms of colon cancer get checked with the FIT every two years. Average risk is defined as people ages 50 to 74 with no first-degree relatives (i.e., parent, brother, sister, or child) who have or have had colon cancer.
• People at increased risk: ColonCancerCheck recommends that people who are at increased risk and have no symptoms get checked with a colonoscopy. Someone at increased risk should start getting checked at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age their first-degree relative was diagnosed with colon cancer, whichever comes first.
People ages 50 to 74 should talk to their family doctor or nurse practitioner about getting checked for colon cancer, including whether FIT is right for them. Anyone without a family doctor or nurse practitioner can call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213, and people living in a First Nation community may visit a health centre or nursing station to discuss their eligibility for a FIT kit.
For eligible people, LifeLabs will mail a FIT kit to their Ontario mailing address of choice following a request from their family doctor or nurse practitioner (or through Telehealth Ontario). Once the screening participant has completed the test, the FIT can be mailed back to the lab or dropped off at a LifeLabs Patient Service Centre (http://locations.lifelabs.com/).
To learn more, visit www.cancercareontario.ca/ccam