Colorectal cancer screening: it could save your life
Screening for colorectal cancer works. Just ask Dr. Rosemary Henderson.
“There’s no doubt about it,” she said. “The screening program caught my cancer so early, my entire journey with cancer was a minor inconvenience that lasted a few months. It could have been so much worse.”
Dr. Henderson’s family doctor started giving her home screening tests when she reached age 50.
“I’m a pathologist by trade,” she said. “I know better than anyone how important these types of screening programs are. I’m sure I had every intention of using the test, but I brought it home, put it on the shelf in my bathroom and forgot about it.”
It was a few years before Dr. Henderson finally did the test.
“I don’t know why I waited so long,” said Dr. Henderson. “It was easy to do and not messy at all. They really have made it as clean and simple as possible.”
The test is called FIT—fecal immunochemical test. It looks for signs of blood in a sample of stool, which is an early indicator of cancerous polyps in the colon.
After her first test came back negative, Dr. Henderson was automatically signed up for follow-up testing every two years from Health PEI’s Colorectal Screening Program.
“When the next test arrived in the mail, it was old hat,” said Dr. Henderson. “Only this time, I was contacted by my family doctor’s office. My test had come back positive for blood.”
“Dr. Henderson is a terrific example of how this program works,” said Anja Nied-Kutterer, coordinator of the Health PEI Colorectal Screening Program. “We test people with what we term ‘normal risk’ for colorectal cancer every two years from age 50 to 74. These people have no symptoms and have no family history of this form of cancer. The test is quite simple and can be performed by anyone at home.”
Several weeks after her positive test, Dr. Henderson visited the QEH for a colonoscopy.
“The surgeon discovered and removed a number of polyps on the wall of my colon,” she said. “Polyps, if left long enough, can develop into cancer, and sure enough, one of mine was malignant.”
Dr. Henderson’s cancer was at an early and treatable stage. She would call it luck, but she and Nied-Kutterer knew luck had nothing to do with it.
“This is how the screening program is supposed to work,” said Nied-Kutterer. “Screening every two years means when cancer is discovered, it is at an early stage of development.”
Shortly after her diagnosis, Dr. Henderson was scheduled for TAMIS—trans-anal minimally invasive surgery.
“It was day surgery,” said Dr. Henderson. “There was no incision. The surgeon removed a section of my bowel wall where the malignant polyp had been, and that was it. I was home later that day with hardly any discomfort at all.”
Dr. Henderson’s cancer story began with a home screening test in March and ended with surgery in June. Her life was barely interrupted because of early detection and prompt follow-up.
Post-cancer, Dr. Henderson will have a colonoscopy every three years until she is 75 to avoid and catch any recurrence.
“I love stories like these, because she avoided the worse outcomes without chemotherapy or radiation,” said Nied-Kutterer. “That feels really gratifying. This screening is available to all Islanders aged 50 to 74, but only about 20 per cent currently participate. We could catch so much more with these simple tests.”
“I can’t recommend this program enough,” said Dr. Henderson. “It was simple. It was clean. It was the right thing to do.”
Learn more about Health PEI’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Program today.