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08/11/06

Screening for colon cancer in Green Bay area

By ELIZABETH MACDONALD nor’wester

A simple test available at your local medical clinic could help save your life.

Green Bay is implementing a Bowel Screening Program to help combat high levels of colon cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador, and a test available at local clinics can lead to the improved detection of bowel cancer and its precancerous lesions. The test is something Dr. Frank Hicks recommends.

"This has been going on informally for years," says Dr. Hicks, a physician with Central Health. "It is part of what we do. A good screening program for colorectal cancer is to get your stool tested for what is called occult blood, that is, blood you cannot see. If you have a positive occult blood then you would have a colonoscopy, which is a light in the bowel, the whole of the large bowel."

The need for a bowel-screening program was identified by a group of health care professionals in the area concerned with the high incidence of colon cancer in this province and the need for a co-ordinated approach to improve detection. This program in Green Bay is modeled after a similar one in the Twillingate-New World Island area.

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the most commonly occurring cancer in Newfoundland and Labrador and is the third most common cancer in Canada. It is the leading cause of death after lung cancer.

Despite its high incidence, colorectal cancer is one of the most detectable and if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is greater than 90 per cent if detected early enough, compared to an eight per cent survival rate if detected late.

"This is a good screening test for the general public. It is like a woman having a breast exam. You don’t have to have a family history of breast cancer to be screened for breast cancer. And that is why we are doing it for colorectal cancer," Dr. Hicks explains.

"We are encouraging people to pick up these little screening tests. Put some stool on them, bring them in to us and the lab will test them for blood."

Dr. Hicks also noted that people with a family history of colon cancer should not feel they must wait until they are 50 for the test, which is the age recommended by the Canadian Cancer Society for people to begin getting themselves tested.

"If you have a positive family history, like a brother or sister or parent with bowel cancer then we would start screening a little earlier. The recommendation of the Canadian Cancer Society is that you start at 50 or 10 years younger than when your relative was diagnosed. So if you had someone who was diagnosed when they were 55, you would generally start at 45," says Dr. Hicks. "Those are the recommendations of the Canadian Cancer Society and we would normally screen these people with a colonoscopy right away rather than doing this other test."

Colorectal cancer occurs in the large bowel and/or rectum and usually develops from non-cancer polyps called adenomatous polyps. A polyp is a grape-like growth on the inside wall of the colon or rectum. Polyps grow slowly over three to ten years, but most people do not develop them until after age 50. Some polyps become cancerous while others do not. Polyps and colorectal cancer usually cause slow steady bleeding in the colon, often mixed with stool but invisible to the naked eye. The fecal occult blood test, now available to all residents over the age of 50 in the Green Bay area, can detect this blood.

Green Bay residents older than 50 can pick up a test kit with instructions from a number of sites including the medical clinic in Springdale, Robert’s Arm or Triton, from the Public Health Nurse and the Continuing Care Nurse in Springdale or Robert’s Arm, and the Green Bay Community Health Centre in Springdale.

"We are just trying to get everybody screened who should be screened, which is everybody over 50," says Dr. Hicks. "It is a very cheap test compared to something like a mammogram, which is a fairly expensive test. This is extremely cheap (for the system), easy to do and fairly accurate."

It is noted, however, that this is a screening test only and while a negative fecal occult blood test may indicate that cancerous polyps are not present, there are other factors to be considered before a diagnosis can be confirmed. Anyone with specific bowel concerns or a strong family history of colon cancer is recommended to make an appointment to discuss their concerns with their family doctor.

A presentation to provide people with more information about the bowel-screening program is available through the health promotion co-ordinator Lily Ledrew at 673-4309.


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