The number of Niagara residents who are getting screened for colorectal cancer is increasing, however, a large percentage of people who could be at risk aren’t protecting themselves by getting screened.
The number of colorectal screenings is up 10 per cent across our local LHIN, with more than 4,000 people getting screened last year, according to Cancer Care Ontario, which coordinates the provincial screening program. Despite this increase, which is almost double the provincial average, there is still some confusion regarding when individuals should be getting screened with a routine Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT). They often wait longer than they should for screening, if they get screened at all.
St. Catharines resident Grant Armstrong was in his 40s when he first began having minor problems with his bowel. At age 51, the problems became more frequent. It wasn’t until then that he decided to get a thorough check up. Good thing he did. Grant had Stage 3 colorectal cancer. Although he received life-saving surgery to remove the cancer and is doing well, he believes he wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t been screened.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get screened,” says Grant. ”I had no family history with the disease but once I got cancer, I told my whole family to get checked.”
Colorectal or colon cancer is the second deadliest form of cancer but if detected early enough, there is a 90 per cent chance the cancer will be cured. A recent Canadian survey conducted by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer indicates the number of Canadians who have been checked for colon cancer has increased significantly over the last three years. However, more than 50 per cent of Canadians mistakenly believe they should wait until symptoms appear before getting screened.
“I’m pleased to see the number of people being screened in Niagara has increased,” says Dr. Radhika Yelamanchili, medical oncologist and disease site lead for colorectal cancer at the St. Catharines General Site. “Ontario has one of the highest rates of colon cancer in the world. I encourage everyone between 50 and 74 to be screened for colon cancer every two years, as it can grow undetected for years. Both women and men have equal risk.”
Although the FOBT is the standard screening process for colon cancer, Dr. Yelamanchili says individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer in an immediate family member should also have a colonoscopy.
Whether an FOBT or colonoscopy is the more appropriate screening test, the best way to start the process is for the individual to talk to their family doctor.