March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and the South East Regional Cancer Program, with Cancer Care Ontario, is encouraging residents of South East Ontario to get checked with a safe and painless take-home test. When caught early, nine out of every 10 people with colon cancer can be cured.
Colon cancer (commonly called ‘colorectal cancer’ or ‘bowel cancer’) is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario and the second most common cause of cancer deaths. It is estimated that in 2016, approximately 9,900 Ontarians were diagnosed with colon cancer and approximately 3,200 Ontarians died from the disease. Despite this fact, many people are not getting checked – particularly men.
“We are seeing approximately 500 new cases of colon cancer in our region,” says Dr. Hugh Langley, Regional Primary Care Lead. “This makes it more important than ever to encourage the men in your life to get checked for this disease beginning in their early 50s – even if they have no family history of the disease or if they don’t have any uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea or stomach pain.”
Cancer Care Ontario recommends that men and women at average risk between the ages of 50 and 74 get checked for colon cancer with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every two years. The FOBT is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks a person’s stool (poop) for tiny drops of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer. An abnormal FOBT result does not necessarily mean that a person has colon cancer, but more testing with a colonoscopy is needed to find out why there is blood in their stool.
Research shows that regular screening using an FOBT, for people who are 50 years of age and older, can reduce deaths from colon cancer. If colon cancer is caught after it has spread to other parts of the body, treating it is harder and less likely to be successful. For people whose colon cancer has spread, as few as one out of eight will be cured.
“Many people don’t realize that colon cancer may be present in the body for a long time before it causes physical symptoms. The role of screening is to catch the cancer early because it is highly treatable at that stage,” says Dr. Lawrence Hookey, Regional Quality Lead for Endoscopy. “For people over 50, getting checked regularly can improve their chances of beating colon cancer. Men between the ages of 55 and 65 would particularly benefit from getting checked.”
Colon cancer can develop when growths on the lining of the colon, called polyps, turn into cancer over time. People between 50 and 74 years of age without a parent, brother, sister or child who has been diagnosed with colon cancer are considered to be at average risk for the disease and should get checked every two years with the safe and painless take-home test, called the FOBT.
Some people who have had polyps removed from their colon, as well as people with inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), may be at increased risk for developing colon cancer and may need to be checked regularly with colonoscopy instead of an FOBT.
Talk to your healthcare provider today about getting checked for colon cancer with a take-home FOBT kit. People without a family doctor or nurse practitioner can get a kit through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213, community pharmacies and mobile screening coaches.
For more information on colon cancer screening in Ontario, visit cancercare.on.ca/colon.