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Colon Cancer Prevention Program expands

Gordon Treichel, who lives in Darling’s Lake, Yarmouth County, was 55 when he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

“As part of a routine check up my family doctor suggested I complete a screening kit for colon cancer,” said Mr. Treichel. “The test found blood in the stool. The next step was colonoscopy, which found and removed polyps. Next was surgery. Today, I am cancer free, most likely because my cancer was found very early through screening.”

Gordon TreichelCancer Care Nova Scotia’s Colon Cancer Prevention Program was developed for people like Mr. Treichel  – reaching out to Nova Scotians who are between 50 and 74 years old and have no signs or symptoms of disease. The Program was launched in three early adopter districts - South Shore Health, Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority and Cape Breton District Health Authority – just over a year ago. The short-term goal: to build a quality, comprehensive screening program to prevent colon cancer when possible or find it at an early stage, as in Mr. Treichel’s case, when cure is more likely. The long-term goal: to decrease mortality from colon cancer. The expansion of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program to South West Health on April 19, 2010 brings CCNS one step closer to achieving these goals.

“Building a quality screening program takes time,” said Theresa Marie Underhill, Chief Operating Officer, Cancer Care Nova Scotia. “We needed to develop the right processes and supports to ensure the program worked for participants, for health professionals and for districts.”

These processes included: building and testing an information system to enable data collection and analysis, creating interfaces to link with MSI data and ensure the right people are invited to participate every two years, as well as communicating participant results to the program, to the participant and to their family physician or primary care provider in a reasonable timeframe. 

The phased approach for implementation enabled program staff and districts to test practices such as the value of a central lab to process all screening tests, the introduction of district screening nurses to support both participant and health provider following an abnormal screening test result, as well as timely patient access to colonoscopy services when needed. These processes are working well and are helping to ensure Nova Scotians have access to high quality screening.

“While it is early days, initial response to the program in the early adopter districts from both participants and providers has been very positive,” said Erika Nicholson, Director, Prevention and Early Detection. “Thirty percent of those who have been invited so far have completed the test. While we want the participation rate to be much higher, in the early years of a screening program 30 per cent is considered very good. Providers are also pleased with the evolution of the program.”

In the coming months, the Colon Cancer Prevention Program will be gradually introduced to the remaining districts. The last district to introduce the program will be Capital Health. This is expected to occur in Spring 2011. Since 40 per cent of Nova Scotians live in areas served by Capital Health, it is important that all components of the program are running like a well-oiled machine before testing the ability of the health system to respond in such a large district.

Even after the Program is launched in Capital Health, it will be another two years before every Nova Scotian, between 50 and 74 years, is invited to participate.

Dr. Badley, Medical Director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program is not concerned with this delay and says it is important to take the time and ensure all the pieces in place to ensure a quality, sustainable program.

“This a screening program intended for people who are at average risk for colon cancer and have no signs or symptoms of disease,” said Dr. Badley. “Anyone who is concerned about colon cancer, has a family history of the disease or is experiencing symptoms should talk with their family doctor about the best screening option for them and not wait for an invitation from the program.”

 “Regular screening, however, is extremely important for those at average risk who do not have any signs of disease. With screening, studies show that we can reduce the number of people who will die from colon cancer by up to one-third.”

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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