No single cause for colorectal cancer

New screening tool playing important role in early detection

  • Apr. 23, 2014 12:00 p.m.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is not something everyone wants to talk about. But, the word needs to get out there. And that starts with doing the math.

CRC is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer for both Canadian women and men. In 2013, approximately 3,000 people in B.C. were diagnosed with this cancer. Yet, CRC is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early and it is up to 90% preventable with timely and thorough testing or “CRC screening”. Unfortunately as it stands today, nearly half of those diagnosed find out too late.

There is no single cause for developing CRC, but some people who are considered to be at higher risk than the general population for CRC include: people with a family history of CRC, people already diagnosed with polyps or early-stage CRC, and people who have inflammatory bowel disease. The risk of CRC rises with age. More than 94 per cent of new cases diagnosed each year in B.C. are men and women age 50 and older. The risk is also increased for those with a family history of CRC. Other risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption, a diet high in fat, red meat or fried or charbroiled foods, smoking and obesity.

To reduce the risk of CRC, it’s important to maintain a healthy body weight and avoid weight gain around the waist. Regular exercise and a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, poultry and fish are all components of maintaining a healthy body weight. (A colon-healthy diet includes eating 25-35 grams of fibre daily.)

Many people diagnosed with CRC never had any symptoms but warning signs include blood in the stool, abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea and vomiting.

The new British Columbia Provincial Colon Screening Program (effective November 2013) is an important tool in screening for CRC which, if detected early, is a highly survivable form of cancer – approximately 90 per cent. Under the provincial colon screening program, doctors and nurse practitioners can refer average risk patients between the ages of 50 and 74 – without symptoms – for a fecal immunochemical test (FIT) once every two years. FIT detects blood in your stool, which can be a sign of polyps that may need to be removed to prevent or  to treat cancer. FITs are done at home and detect tiny amounts of blood in the stool – a possible sign of colon cancer. (In a February 04, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that across 19 studies, FITs caught more than three-quarters of colon tumors, and were very good at ruling out the cancer.) Patients with a significant family history of CRC will be referred directly for a screening colonoscopy by their health care provider.

Screening for colorectal cancer is easy and convenient. All you need to do is have a stool test once you turn 50 – and keep having one every two years. A stool test might be something you’d rather avoid. But it could save your life – it’s that simple. If this is something you need to do, make an appointment with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

– Contributed by Agassiz Community Health Centre

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