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Colorectal Cancer in Nova Scotia

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in Nova Scotia. It is also the second leading cause cancer deaths in this province. It represents approximately 15% of all new invasive cancers. Each year between 2006 and 2010, approximately 445 men and 395 women were diagnosed with some form of colorectal cancer. Fifty-five per cent of these cancers were colon cancers, and 45% were rectal cancers. Age is a risk factor for colorectal cancer, with more than 90% of cases diagnosed at age 50 and older. Behaviors such as a lack of physical activity, obesity, a diet high in red or processed meat, smoking, and heavy alcohol use are also known to increase an individual’s risk of colon cancer.

Improvements are being made in the early detection of colorectal cancer in Nova Scotia in an effort to reduce the number of people diagnosed and dying from the disease. Our understanding of colorectal cancer is that it has a defined pre-cancerous phase (e.g. polyps) that, if detected early, can be successfully removed before cancer can develop. Cancer found at an early stage also has a better chance of being cured. Beginning in 2009, a population-based screening program coordinated by Cancer Care Nova Scotia (CCNS) was rolled out across the province.

The Colon Cancer Prevention Program (CCPP) offers colon cancer screening to Nova Scotians aged 50 to 74. Colon cancer screening should result in cancer being prevented by finding and removing pre-cancerous polyps and finding more colon cancers earlier when they can be more successfully treated. There is direct relationship between how early (its stage) a colon cancer is found and the success of treatment. The stage distribution for colorectal cancers diagnosed between 2006 and 2010 in Nova Scotia is presented in Figure 1. Between 2006 and 2010, half (50%) of the invasive colorectal cancer cases were considered early stage: 24% Stage 0/I and 26% Stage II.

Survival from colon cancer depends on the stage of the cancer when the diagnosis is made.
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 Figure 1: Stage Distribution of Colorectal Cancer Cases, Nova Scotia 2006-2010
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