Colorectal cancer awareness month: Regular screening reduces risk
March’s national colorectal cancer awareness month is a good time for Islanders and health care providers to talk about the importance of early detection.
Screening using the FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test) Kit is recommended every two years for those of average risk who are 50 to 74 years of age. Average risk means no family history of colorectal cancer (parent or sibling) or no symptoms such as change in bowel movements, visible blood in their stool, or excessive vomiting.
“I tell all my friends to get a FIT Kit and take the test – it’s simple and takes just a few minutes,” said Donna Gallant, who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer six years ago after her FIT Kit test result came back positive. After months of chemo and radiation therapy, she is now cancer free. “Too many people wait until they feel unwell to see a health care provider, and by then it could be too late. No one should put off cancer screening; it’s a simple test that can save your life.”
In addition to regular screening, Islanders can also take active steps to reduce their risk factors for colorectal cancer, including:
- eating a balanced diet high in fruits and vegetables;
- maintaining a healthy weight;
- not smoking;
- limiting alcohol consumption; and
- taking vitamin D supplements.
“March is always a good time to remind Islanders that the best form of preventing colorectal cancer, as with almost any form of cancer, is regular screening and making healthy lifestyle choices,” said Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell. “I encourage all Islanders to speak with their primary care provider about their own risk factors and make screening part of their health routine”
Colorectal cancer is the second-most-common cancer among Island women and third-most-common among Island men. It is the second leading cause of death from cancer among all Islanders. Even with Prince Edward Island’s aging population, less than 25 per cent of eligible Islanders aged 50 to 74 have been screened for colorectal cancer during the last two years using the FIT Kit.
“Colon cancer doesn't always cause symptoms in the early stages, which is why regular screening is so important,” said Marguerite Arsenault, provincial cancer coordinator. “Colon cancer affects men and women equally, and the risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer increases with age.
“Regular screening using a FIT Kit can improve a person’s chance for early detection and a complete recovery,” she said. “In some cases, it can actually prevent cancer from ever developing.”
Call the PEI Colorectal Cancer Screening Program toll-free 1-888-561-2233 or go online to www.healthpei.ca/cancercare to request a FIT Kit or to get more information about the province’s colorectal cancer screening program.
Screening for colorectal cancer may be done by a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) or by colonoscopy.
A FIT test can detect blood in the stool which can be a sign of pre-cancer. FIT can be done in the comfort of a person’s own home by following the instructions provided in the kit. If blood is found, then further consult with a doctor or nurse practitioner will determine what follow-up procedures (such as a colonoscopy) are needed.
A person may be of increased risk for colorectal cancer and should consult a health professional if they:
- have a family history of colorectal cancer
- have a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- are experiencing any of the following symptoms: change in bowel movements, blood (bright red or dark) in your stool, long-standing diarrhea or constipation, weight loss or fatigue, or extreme vomiting.