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Colon Cancer Prevention Program saving lives


In the three years since Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Colon Cancer Prevention Program was first introduced in three early adopter health districts, 800 Nova Scotians who completed the home screening kit were found to have a pre-cancerous or cancerous growth.

Since March 2011 the Program has been available province wide. By March 2013, every Nova Scotian, between the ages of 50 and 74, will have received at least one easy-to-use home screening kit in their mailbox.

In Depth: Colorectal cancer in Nova Scotia

To date, approximately 30 per cent of people who have received a kit have completed it. “This was our target response rate for the early days of the Program,” said Erika Nicholson, CCNS’s Director of Prevention and Early Detection. “It’s a good start, but it is only the beginning. Our goal is to double this number, so we’ll have an even greater impact on fighting colon cancer in this province. If 60 per cent of people respond to our invitation for screening, in time we can expect to significantly reduce the number of Nova Scotians who die from this preventable cancer.”

As participation in the Program increases, it is expected that even more people will be identified with pre-cancerous growths and cancers.

“It will probably be between five and ten years before the greatest impact of the Program is realized when colon cancer rates will begin to decline in Nova Scotia.”

Increasing the numbers of Nova Scotians who complete the screening test when they receive an invitation is crucial to the Program’s success. “This means we have work to do to help Nova Scotians understand when they should be screened, and the value of regular screening in preventing colon cancer or finding it early when treatment is most effective,” said Erika.

A recent study conducted by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer found that 43 per cent of Nova Scotians wrongly believe people should be screened for cancer only after they have symptoms.

"I am very concerned about this finding," said Dr. Bernard Badley, Medical Director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program. "Colon cancer screening is best done when people are feeling good and have no warning signs or symptoms of disease.”

In an effort to correct this misconception, CCNS will work with health care providers across the province to get the life-saving message out about the best time to screen. “We are developing a program to reach primary care providers,” said Erika. “We have also implemented a system of reminder notices to encourage people to take the test if they have not already done so.”

Data from the screening program shows that more women than men are doing the test. “This is not unexpected,” said Dr. Badley. “Women are used to screening programs for breast and cervical cancer whereas cancer screening is a relatively new concept for men. Also, many men do not understand that they are at increased risk for developing colon cancer.”

To increase the numbers of men who do the screening test, Program staff are working to help individuals and their health care providers better understand the genetic and lifestyle factors that influence a person’s risk. As well, personal stories about people whose lives have been positively impacted by screening will be shared.

“The Colon Cancer Prevention Program is already saving lives,” said Dr. Badley. “But, the number of lives we are able to save depends entirely on the number of people who take the test. We hope our communication and education strategies will encourage even more Nova Scotians to complete the home screening kit when they receive their invitation in the mail.”

Cancer Care Nova Scotia's Colon Cancer Prevention Program mails individuals, 50-74 years, a home-screening kit containing a stool test every two years. Individuals born in an even year receive their kit in an even year close to their birthday. Individuals born in an odd year receive their kit in odd years close to their birthday.

Nova Scotians, who are concerned about colon cancer or who have symptoms should not wait for a home screening kit, but should speak with their family doctor or primary care provider about the right test for them.

For more information about the Colon Cancer Prevention Program visit www.cancercare.ns.ca/coloncancerprevention or call 1-866-599-2267.

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