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Colon Cancer Prevention Program – The first nine months

About 5,000 Nova Scotians in three district health authorities got a healthy surprise in 2009 when they opened their mailbox: a colon cancer screening kit. This year the kits will be making their way to even more mailboxes around the province.

The Colon Cancer Prevention Program was launched in March 2009 by Cancer Care Nova Scotia in South Shore Health, the Cape Breton District Health Authority, and Guysborough Antigonish Strait Health Authority. By spring of this year, it will be rolled out in one more district and by spring of 2011, the innovative program will be available province-wide.

The program gives Nova Scotians easy access to screening for colon cancer, using a test, called a Fecal Immunochemical Test or FIT, that is done at home. “Results from a survey of participants indicate that there is 100 per cent acceptance of the test,” says Dr. Bernard Badley, Medical Director, CCNS’s Colon Cancer Prevention Program. “All those who did the test said they would do it again and would recommend their family and friends complete it when they receive their invitation.”

When the program was launched, a participation rate of 30 per cent was set as the goal. “We’re well on our way to achieving that,” says Erika Nicholson, Manager, Colon Cancer Prevention Program.

Most participants who responded to the survey said they participaFIT Testted in the program as part of ensuring a healthy lifestyle. Helping to prevent cancer was the second most common reason given.

Of those who chose not to take part at this point, some had already been screened for colon cancer, and some were being treated for the disease, notes Erika. “However, the majority of non-participants, who responded, said they had planned to take part but just never got around to it.”

To help prevent people from forgetting to complete the test, a reminder letter will now be sent to those who do not complete the test and send it back to the lab within three months.

Screening kits are sent to individuals (aged 50-74 years) every two years in the month of their birth. Individuals born in a year ending in an even number, will receive their kit in a year that ends in an even number. Likewise, those born in an odd year will receive the kit in an odd year close to their birth month. This ensures that everyone who should be screened every two years is invited to do so, in a way that is sustainable for the health system.

“The Colon Cancer Prevention Program is about preventing cancer when possible and finding it early before there are symptoms,” says Dr. Badley. “However, people who have symptoms or have any concerns about colon cancer should not wait for a kit. They should see their family physician right away.”

For most who receive and complete a FIT test, results will be normal. Should the test however, indicate a potential problem, an appointment will be set up with a District Screening Nurse. The District Screening Nurse answers any questions individuals may have, performs a basic health assessment, and provides individuals with information about follow-up procedures such as a colonoscopy, if appropriate.

“The district screening nurses are proving to be invaluable,” says Erika. It is a new concept that the program introduced to Nova Scotia and participants have reported being better prepared for the colonoscopy after meeting with the nurse.

“This unique approach we are using in Nova Scotia, meets two goals,” she says. “It: is helping patients understand the procedure and it is making the system more effective and efficient.”

For information about colon cancer screening and the Colon Cancer Prevention Program, visit the Prevention and Screening section of our website or call
toll-free 1-866-599-2267.

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