Prevention & Screening

About Us

Frequently Asked Questions
Colon Cancer Screening FAQs


Colon Cancer
•What is colon cancer?
•How do most colon cancers start?
•How is colon cancer affecting Nova Scotians?
•What are the warning signs of colon cancer?
•Who is at an increased risk of developing colon cancer?
•How can I lower my risk for colon cancer?
•What should I do if I have any questions or concerns about colon cancer?


Colon Cancer Prevention Program

•What is the Colon Cancer Prevention Program?
•What information does the Program keep?
•How is my information kept private?
•Can I opt out of the Program?
•How can I find out more about the Program?
•Why does our participant form include the question "Are you a member of the following cultural/ethnic communities?"

Screening

•What is screening?
•Why is screening for colon cancer important?
•How do you screen for colon cancer?
•Who should be screened for colon cancer?
•How was I chosen to be screened?
•How do I get a screening test?
•How often are screening tests being mailed?
•When will I get my screening test?


Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

•What is the Fecal Immunochemical Test?
•What are the benefits of FIT?
•What are the risks of FIT?
•What does a normal result mean?
•What if I see blood in my stool even if I have a normal result?
•What does an abnormal result mean?

Colonoscopy

•What is a colonoscopy?


Colon Cancer

What is colon cancer?
Colon (or colorectal or large bowel) cancer is any cancer that occurs in the large intestine, which is made up of the colon and the rectum.

colon

 

 Images courtesy of Cancer Care Manitoba


How do most colon cancers start?
Most colon cancers start as small growths in the colon or rectum. These growths are called polyps, which can bleed into the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps turn into cancer.

polyps

Images courtesy of Cancer Care Manitoba

 

How is colon cancer affecting Nova Scotians?

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Nova Scotia. Approximately 1000 men and women are diagnosed with colon cancer every year, and about 350 of them will die from the disease.

What are the warning signs of colon cancer?
Colon cancer grows slowly and often has no warning signs until the cancer is more advanced.

Common signs of colon cancer include:

•Rectal bleeding, or any sign of blood after bowel movements.
•Lasting change in bowel habits such as:
    oDiarrhea or constipation for more than a few weeks
    oStools that are consistently more narrow than usual
    oThe feeling that you aren’t completely emptying your bowel.
•Unexplained weight loss, tiredness or exhaustion.

If you have any of these warning signs of colon cancer, please see your doctor or nurse.

Who is at an increased risk of developing colon cancer?
Individuals at a higher risk of developing colon cancer include those with:
- a family history (parent, child or sibling) of colon cancer
- hereditary conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
- long-standing inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- history of previous uterine, ovarian, breast or small bowel cancer
- previous colorectal polyps or cancer
 
If you fall in this higher risk category, please speak with your family doctor to determine your risk and to develop an appropriate screening plan.

How can I lower my risk for colorectal cancer?
You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer by:
- getting screened regularly
- eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables
- maintaining a healthy weight
- exercising
- not smoking
- limiting alcohol consumption
- taking vitamin D supplements

What should I do if I have any questions or concerns about colon cancer?
If you have questions or concerns about colon cancer, please speak to your family doctor.

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Colon Cancer Prevention Program

What is the Colon Cancer Prevention Program?
The Colon Cancer Prevention Program was developed by Cancer Care Nova Scotia with the goal of decreasing the number of colon cancer deaths in Nova Scotia by facilitating regular screening of all Nova Scotians aged 50 - 74. It is now available in all District Health Authorities.

What information does the Program keep?
We keep the information from the Participant Form that people complete with their screening test, the results of the screening test (FIT) so that we know who needs follow-up tests, and the results of any follow-up tests such as a colonoscopy. All of this information will also help us to improve the program over time.

How is my information kept private?
We are required to follow the Cancer Care Nova Scotia Privacy Policy. This means that:
•all program staff are required to protect your privacy.
•the names of screening participants will not be used in any program evaluation or public reports about the program.
The doctor or nurse that you identified on the Participant Form will receive your results.  He or she may ask us for the results of any follow-up tests such as a colonoscopy.

For more information, please see the CCNS Privacy Policy. To request a paper copy of the policy, please call 1-866-599-2267.

Can I opt out of the Program?
Yes.  Check off the “Opt out” option on the Participant Form that you receive from us in the mail, or call us at 1-866-599-2267.  This tells us that you do not want to participate in this program and do not want to be contacted again.

You can rejoin the program at any time simply by calling us at 1-866-599-2267.

How can I find out more about the Program?
To learn more about the Colon Cancer Prevention Program, call us toll-free at 1-866-599-2267.

Why does our Participant Form include the question "Are you a member of the following cultural/ethnic communities?"
This information will help us learn, over time, how colon cancer affects people of various cultural / ethnic communities.  Evidence suggests that certain communities (for example individuals of African heritage) are at increased risk for developing colon cancer.   These specific categories have been selected based on the Nova Scotia cultural competence guidelines and in consultation with other government organizations.

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Screening

What is screening?
Screening can find cancer earlier by testing people who do not show any signs of the disease.

Why is screening for colon cancer important?
Regular screening is important because colon cancer can often develop without any warning signs. The goal is to catch and remove pre-cancerous growths (polyps) early before cancer develops or before it spreads.  When found early, colon cancer is preventable and treatable.

How do you screen for colon cancer?
Polyps (growths) in the small intestine often leak small amounts of blood into the stool. A Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) can find these small traces of blood. The FIT is a simple test that can be done in the privacy of your home.

Who should be screened for colon cancer?
All healthy people aged 50 - 74, with no family history of colon cancer, should be screened every two years. Research shows that people aged 50-74 benefit the most from screening for colon cancer.

People with warning signs of colon cancer (such as blood in the stool or changes in bowel habits) and those who have a family history of colon cancer should talk with their doctor who will arrange for the most appropriate screening test based on their history.

How was I chosen to be screened?
Research shows that people aged 50-74 benefit the most from screening for colon cancer. In order to offer this crucial screening program to the people of Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness has provided Cancer Care Nova Scotia with the names and addresses of people between the ages of 50 and 74 from existing Department of Health and Wellness information sources.

How do I get a screening test?
The Colon Cancer Prevention Program will be mailing screening tests to everyone in Nova Scotia aged 50 – 74 years old.

How often are screening tests being mailed?
To help ensure a smooth flow of participants into the Program, kits are being mailed weekly based on a person’s birth week and year.  The Colon Cancer Prevention Program  will keep track of who has been mailed a screening test to guarantee that everyone aged 50 – 74 within a District Health Authority is invited to participate in screening over a two year period.

Once the first cycle of invitations and screening kit mailings is completed, the Program will invite people to repeat their screening test every two years.

When will I get my screening test?
Currently, screening kits are being mailed to people aged 50 – 74 in all District Health Authorities.

Screening tests are being mailed weekly based on a person’s year of birth and date of birth. 
- If you were born in an even year (e.g. 1950, 1948) you will receive your kit in even years (e.g. 2010, 2012)
- If you were born in an odd year (e.g. 1951, 1953) you will receive your kit in odd years (e.g. 2009, 2011).
- You can expect to receive your kit shortly after your birthday. 

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Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

What is the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)?
The FIT looks for very small amounts of blood in your stool. You simply place a sample of your stool on a test card and return it, along with the Participant Form, to the lab in the postage-paid envelope. The lab will analyze the test and send a letter with your results to you and your doctor or nurse practitioner.

What are the benefits of FIT?
•It can be done in the privacy of your home.
•It can help find polyps or early stages of colon cancer when treatment is most effective.

What are the risks of FIT?
•FIT alone has no risk of harm. An abnormal test can lead to other follow-up tests, like a colonoscopy, that have more risk.
•FIT may find blood when there really is none, and this may result in unnecessary further testing and worry.
•FIT may miss blood in a sample and possibly miss a diagnosis of polyps or cancer.
•Some polyps and colon cancers do not bleed. Therefore, FIT will not detect all polyps or cancer.
Despite these facts, stool screening for blood has been shown to save lives.

What does a normal result mean?
A normal result means that no blood was found in your stool. You will be asked to repeat the screening test in two years.

What if I see blood in my stool even if I have a normal result?
If you see blood in your stool, or notice any of the warning signs of colon cancer, please see your family doctor or nurse.

What does an abnormal result mean?
•An abnormal result means that blood was found in your stool. More testing needs to be done to see where the blood is coming from. It could be coming from a polyp or cancer or even from hemorrhoids. Some polyps could develop into colon cancer if they are not removed.
•If your results are abnormal, we will contact you to arrange for a follow-up test called a colonoscopy.
•For every 1000 people who complete the FIT, about 20 people will have an abnormal result and will be referred for a colonoscopy. It is estimated that 2 of those people will have colon cancer found at their colonoscopy. Several people will have polyps that may lead to cancer if they are not removed during their colonoscopy.

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Colonoscopy

What is a colonoscopy?
A long, flexible tube (scope) is slowly guided into your colon through your rectum. You are given medication to keep you from feeling much discomfort. The scope sends a picture of the inside of the colon to a video screen.

colonoscopy

Images courtesy of Cancer Care Manitoba

 

A doctor examines the lining of the colon and can remove polyps using tiny tools passed through the scope. For most people, a colonoscopy is a straightforward procedure; however, on rare occasion, some people may have bleeding or other complications such as a perforation (tear) that may require a hospital stay.