The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is encouraging Quebecers aged 50 to 74 to take steps to find out about the often silent killer that is colorectal cancer.
In this colorectal cancer awareness month — the second deadliest in Quebec after lung cancer — the Canadian Cancer Society is reminding people that taking a screening test can save your life.
The test can be taken in the comfort of your own bathroom and is easily available with a prescription from a doctor.
It consists of taking a sample of stool which will then be analyzed in a lab to detect even the slightest presence of blood.
These traces of blood, sometimes invisible to the naked eye, can be a sign of cancer even before symptoms appear. If the test result is abnormal, a colonoscopy is then indicated to make a diagnosis.
Family physician Dr. Claude Rivard said the test likely saved his life.
“I had absolutely no symptoms at all and this test which is really simple to do, you do it at home, detected that I had small traces of blood in my stool,” said Rivard. “I had a colonoscopy a month and a half later and the colonoscopy determined I had stage one colon cancer. I had a surgery about a month and a half after that and I’ve been well since then.”
Colonoscopy also removes possible polyps, these small masses of flesh on the walls of the large intestine that can turn into cancer.
Out of 1,000 people who perform the test, the presence of blood will be detected in 36 of them, according to figures from the government of Quebec.
Out of that number, only four will actually have colon cancer, while 17 will need to have polyps removed.
The other 15 will have no polyps or cancer. It’s worth the effort, insists the Canadian Cancer Society.
“When you detect colon cancer at an early stage, the survival (after five years) is 90%, whereas if you detect it at a much more advanced stage where there are metastases, you are talking about 15% “, specifies CCS spokesperson, André Beaulieu.
Removing polyps can prevent cancer altogether. However, only four out of 10 Quebecers in the target age group get the test.
“It is largely insufficient if we want to see an impact in terms of public health,” said Beaulieu.
In Quebec, colon cancer kills more than breast and prostate cancers combined. Across Canada, it’s estimated that one in two cases is diagnosed once it has spread to other parts of the body.
— With files from The Canadian Press