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Understanding - and preventing - colon cancer

Colon cancer touches the lives of approximately 800 men and women – and their families – each year in our province. Almost half of those diagnosed with the disease will die.
 
Cancer Care Nova Scotia is working to change that. This spring its Colon Cancer Prevention Program will roll out in three district health authorities: South Shore Health, Cape Breton District Health Authority and Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority. “This program will save lives,” says Dr. Bernard Badley, Medical Director, CCNS’s Colon Cancer Prevention Program.

“Colon cancer,” he notes, “is a potentially preventable cancer.”

Colon cancer, also called colorectal and bowel cancer, has a very long pre-cancerous stage. The cancer often starts as small growths called polyps, and screening can help find them early before they turn into cancer.

“If we identify the cancer early, there are opportunities to take action,” adds Dr. Badley. “With screening, studies show we can potentially reduce the number of people who will die of the disease by one-third.”

Screening is essential because there are often no warning signs of colon cancer in the early stages, when it is most treatable. As well, most people who get the disease have no family history.

In fact, the greatest risk factor for colon cancer is being over the age of 50. This is why Cancer Care Nova Scotia is inviting Nova Scotians, between the ages of 50 and 74, to be regularly tested for colon cancer. Beginning in April 2009, Nova Scotians who live in three districts mentioned above can expect to receive information about colon cancer and a test kit to complete.

The test, called a Fecal Immunochemical Test or FIT, is done at home. Individuals will receive instructions with the kit and will be asked to place a stool sample on test cards provided and mail it to a lab in the postage-paid envelope provided. At the lab the sample will be tested for small amounts of blood. If blood is found in the sample, it doesn’t mean there is cancer, but it does mean that a follow-up test, a colonoscopy, will be ordered. Participants and their doctor will receive a letter in the mail with the results from the FIT test, as well as information about any follow-up procedures that are necessary.

Because the program is being phased in across the province, it will take about two years before it is available to everyone. People who have symptoms or other concerns about colon cancer should speak with their family doctor and request a Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT).

Find out more information about colon cancer and CCNS’s Colon Cancer Prevention Program.

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Warning signs of colon cancer:
•rectal bleeding or any sign of blood after bowel movements

•a lasting change in bowel habits (having diarrhea or being constipated for more than a few weeks)

•stools that are consistently more narrow than usual

•the feeling that you are not completely emptying your bowel

•unexplained weight loss

•tiredness or exhaustion

Reduce your risk

Reduce your risk of developing colon cancer by:

* Getting screened
* Eating healthy
* Being physically active
* Not smoking / Quitting, if you do
* Limiting how much alcohol you drink