A colon cancer survivor shares his story and encourages men and women to get screened.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and the South West Regional Cancer Program
is encouraging residents in the South West to get checked with a safe and painless
take-home test. When caught early, nine out of every 10 people with colon cancer
can be cured.
Colon cancer (commonly called ‘colorectal cancer' or ‘bowel cancer') is the second
most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario and the second most common cause of cancer
deaths. It is estimated that in 2016, approximately 9,900 Ontarians were diagnosed
with colon cancer and approximately 3,200 Ontarians died from the disease. In the
South West, 278 people were treated for colon cancer last year.
Cancer Care Ontario recommends that men and women at average risk between the ages
of 50 and 74 get checked for colon cancer with a fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
every two years. The FOBT is a safe and painless cancer screening test that checks
a person's stool (poop) for tiny drops of blood, which could be caused by colon
cancer. An abnormal FOBT result does not necessarily mean that a person has colon
cancer, but more testing with a colonoscopy is needed to find out why there is blood
in their stool.
"I'll be honest – people don't generally get excited about taking an FOBT test,"
quips Dr. Jan Owen, Regional Primary Care Lead for the South West Regional Cancer
Program. "I know it's easier to let the collection kit accumulate dust on your bathroom
counter, but the reality is it could help save your life."
Paul VanBilsen knows a thing or two about FOBT kits collecting dust. He left his
under the bathroom sink for eight years.
An FOBT kit was in Paul's hands well before he hit age 50. A family member was diagnosed
with colon cancer just a few years earlier and his doctor wanted him to do the test
as a precaution. "Like many other men my age I put it off," he says. "It wasn't
until last Summer when my doctor put another test in my hands that I finally decided
to ‘take care of business'."
Paul was 51 when he was diagnosed with and treated for stage one colon cancer. One
canceled summer vacation later and surgery to remove the cancerous tumour, he is
cancer-free but will continue to have follow-up scopes to ensure no new cancer develops.
"Unfortunately, Paul's story isn't uncommon," says Jan. "This makes it more important
than ever to encourage the men and women in your life to get checked for this disease
beginning in their early 50s – even if they have no family history of the disease
or if they don't have any uncomfortable symptoms such as persistent diarrhea or
Research shows that regular screening using an FOBT, for people who are 50 years
of age and older, can reduce deaths from colon cancer. If colon cancer is caught
after it has spread to other parts of the body, treating it is harder and less likely
to be successful. For people whose colon cancer has spread, as few as one out of
eight will be cured.
"Many people don't realize that colon cancer may be present in the body for a long
time before it causes physical symptoms. The role of screening is to catch cancer
early because it is highly treatable at that stage," reminds Jan. "For people over
50, getting checked regularly can improve their chances of beating colon cancer.
Men between the ages of 55 and 65 would particularly benefit from getting checked."
Colon cancer can develop when growths on the lining of the colon, called polyps,
turn into cancer over time. People between 50 and 74 years of age without a parent,
brother, sister or child who has been diagnosed with colon cancer are considered
to be at average risk for the disease and should get checked every two years with
the safe and painless take-home test, called the FOBT.
Some people who have had polyps removed from their colon, as well as people with
inflammatory bowel disease (i.e., Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), may be
at increased risk for developing colon cancer and may need to be checked regularly
with colonoscopy instead of an FOBT.
For Paul, the message is simple. "Take care of business and complete the FOBT kit,"
he says. "If I had done it sooner, I may not have needed surgery. If I waited longer,
things could have been a lot worse. Your life is precious - take care of it!"
Talk to your healthcare provider today about getting checked for colon cancer with
a take-home FOBT kit. People without a family doctor or nurse practitioner can get
a kit through Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213, community pharmacies and mobile
For more information on colon cancer screening in Ontario, visit cancercare.on.ca/colon.
South West Regional Cancer Program oversees the delivery and quality of cancer services
for the counties of Grey, Bruce, Huron, Perth, Middlesex, Oxford, Elgin, and part
of Norfolk. It is one of 13 Regional Cancer Programs created by Cancer Care Ontario
in 2005 to ensure cancer care is delivered according to province-wide quality standards.