Take-home test could save your life

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Posted Mar 6th, 2017 in News

Take-home test could save your life

The message from Brenda Luscombe, Director of Niagara Health's Colorectal Screening Program, is simple: Get checked.

"Getting checked for colon cancer helps find cancer earlier, when it may be easier to treat," says Ms. Luscombe.

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. And Niagara Health, in partnership with Cancer Care Ontario, is encouraging you to get checked with a take-home test.

Colon 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, 9,900 Ontarians were diagnosed with colon cancer and about 3,200 Ontarians died from the disease.

However, when caught early, nine out of 10 people can be cured.

"It's recommended that men and women at average risk between the ages of 50 and 74 get checked with a fecal occult blood test every two years," says Ms. Luscombe, who is also Director of Clinical Services, Oncology and Ambulatory Services at Niagara Health. "This test is safe and painless and can be done at home. Many people don’t realize that colon cancer can be there for a long time before you show any symptoms, which makes it important to not only get checked, but also repeat the take-home test every two years even if you feel fine.”

How to check for colon cancer 

You can check for colon cancer with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT). The FOBT is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks a person’s stool for tiny drops of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer. Take-home FOBT kits are available from healthcare providers. 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. Once the samples are collected, they can be sent to a lab for testing using the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit or by returning the kit to a specimen collection centre.

Who should be checked for colon cancer?

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 average risk for the disease and should get checked every two years with the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). People with a family history of colon cancer in a parent, brother, sister or child are at an increased risk for developing the disease. These individuals should be checked with a colonoscopy (instead of an FOBT) beginning at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age their relative was diagnosed, whichever comes first.  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.

Benefits of getting checked for colon cancer

Screening helps find colon cancer early, when there are no uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea and stomach pain, and when treatment has the best chance of working. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured. If colon cancer is caught after it has already 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.

FIVE MYTHS ABOUT COLON CANCER

 1. I don’t have any symptoms of colon cancer so I don’t need to get checked. 

Colon cancer can grow slowly in the body for many years before it causes any symptoms. Screening helps find colon cancer early, when there are no uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea and stomach pain, and when treatment has the best chance of working. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured. Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men in Ontario. It is particularly important for men between the ages of 55 and 65 to get checked because the risk of colon cancer increases over the age of 50 and this group would strongly benefit from finding colon cancer early, before it has spread to other parts of the body.

 2. I don’t need to get checked for colon cancer because I have no family history of the disease. 

Research shows that almost 70 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history of the disease. Cancer Care Ontario defines people with an average risk for developing colon cancer as those between the ages of 50 and 74 without a parent, brother, sister or child who has been diagnosed with the disease. People at average risk should get checked every two years with the safe and painless take-home test, called the fecal occult blood test (FOBT). People with a family history of colon cancer in a parent, brother, sister or child are at increased risk for developing the disease. These individuals should get checked with a colonoscopy (instead of an FOBT) beginning at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age at which their relative was diagnosed, whichever comes first. 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 also need to be checked regularly with colonoscopy instead of an FOBT.

3. Colon cancer is an older person’s disease, so I don’t need to worry about it yet. 

Colon cancer is typically slow to develop, as growths on the lining of the colon, called polyps, can sometimes turn into cancer over time. It can take up to 10 years, or even more, for the disease to develop to a stage where it is less likely to be treated successfully. This is why it is so important to get checked beginning at the age of 50. When colon cancer is caught early, nine out of 10 people with the disease can be cured. If colon cancer is caught after it has already spread to other parts of the body, it is less likely that treatment will be successful.  It is recommended that men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 with no symptoms or family history of colon cancer get checked every two years using the FOBT kit through ColonCancerCheck, Ontario’s colon cancer screening program.

4. Getting checked for colon cancer sounds uncomfortable and invasive. 

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. The test can be done in the comfort and privacy of a person’s home, and only takes a few minutes a day on three different days to do. Take-home FOBT kits are available from healthcare providers. 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. Once the samples are collected, they can be sent to a lab for testing using the postage-paid envelope provided in the kit or by returning the kit to a specimen collection centre.

5. Colon cancer cannot be prevented. 

There are some habits or personal characteristics, called risk factors, that increase the chance of getting colon cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as age and family history. However, there are some risk factors that can be changed. Here are some things that people can do to lower their risk of getting colon cancer:               

• Limit alcohol. Men should have no more than two drinks a day and women should have no more than one drink a day.

• Limit red meat and try not to eat processed meat (e.g., bologna, salami).

• Have a healthy body weight.

• Be physically active as part of everyday life.

• Eat a diet high in fibre (including vegetables and fruit).

• Quit smoking and stop using tobacco products (e.g., cigarettes, chewing tobacco).

• Get checked with a take-home test!

Niagara Health System