1) Why is screening for colon cancer important?
Regular screening is important because colon cancer can often develop without any warning signs or symptoms. The goal is to catch and remove pre-cancerous growths (polyps) early before cancer develops or before it spreads. When found early, colon cancer is often preventable and treatable.
Remember, the life you save could be your own! Speak to your health-care provider today about colon cancer screening!
2) How do you screen for colon cancer?
Polyps (growths) in the colon often leak small amounts of blood into the stool. A Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) can find these small traces of blood. The FIT is a simple test that can be done in the privacy of your home (at-home test).
3) Who should be screened for colon cancer?
The NB Colon Cancer Screening Program screens people who are at average risk aged 50 to 74 every two years with a Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). Research shows that people aged 50 to 74 benefit the most from screening for colon cancer.
An average risk individual is someone:
• ≥ 50 years of age;
• without symptoms;
• without personal history of colorectal polyps, colorectal cancer (CRC) or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), and
• without any first degree family history (parent, child or sibling) of CRC.
NOTE: Individuals with affected relatives, who are more distant than first degree, can be considered to be at average risk.
4) Who is not eligible to participate in the colon cancer screening program?
Individuals who are at higher risk of developing colon cancer (not average risk) need to have a different screening approach than what the colon program offers. The at-home test (FIT) is not the best screening test for them.
A not average risk (increased risk) individual is someone with:
• one or more first degree relatives with CRC;
• a personal history of colorectal polyps or CRC;
• a strong family history of CRC with multiple individuals affected but no genetic syndrome identified;
• a family history of HNPCC (Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer) or FAP (Familial Adenomatous Polyposis); or
• a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
If you fall in this higher risk category, please make an appointment to speak with your primary health-care provider (doctor or nurse) to determine your risk and to develop an appropriate screening plan.
5) How was I chosen to be screened?
Research shows that people aged 50 to 74 benefit the most from screening for colon cancer. In order to offer this crucial screening program to the people of New Brunswick, the Department of Health has provided the Colon Cancer Screening Program with the names and addresses of people between the ages of 50 and 74 from existing information sources.
6) What are the benefits and risks of colon screening?
Almost every test or procedure has benefits and risks. It’s important to be aware of them so that you can make an informed decision that’s right for you. No screening test is 100% accurate, but the scientific evidence tells us that having regular FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test) leads to a decrease in death rates from colon cancer.
• Easy to do in the privacy of your own home.
• Early detection: It can help find polyps or early stage colon cancer when treatment is most effective.
• No dietary restrictions.
• Only one sample is required.
• FIT has an automated processer giving fewer false positives in test results.
• Better survival rates: The FIT can help detect (find) early stage colon cancer. In most cases, the earlier a cancer is detected, the better your chance of survival.
• Better quality of life: Early detection may also mean less treatment and less time spent recovering.
• FIT alone has no risk of harm. An abnormal test can lead to other follow-up tests, like a colonoscopy, that have more risks.
• False-positive results: This happens when test results suggest there is blood in the stool when there really is none. False positives can cause anxiety, stress and possibly painful and unnecessary tests to rule out pre-cancer or cancer (that is, to make sure you don’t have cancer when the screening test has suggested you might).
• False-negative results: This happens when the FIT may miss blood in the stool that is not detected by the test even though it is present. False-negative results can cause you or your doctor to be unaware of colon abnormalities that could lead to cancer or to ignore symptoms that suggest the presence of cancer, causing a delay in diagnosis and treatment.
• Some polyps and colon cancers do not bleed. Therefore, the FIT will not detect all polyps or cancer.
Despite these facts, screening saves lives!
7) How do I get a screening test?
The Colon Cancer Screening Program is mailing invitations to everyone in New Brunswick aged 50 to 74 years.
Once invited, you just have to mail back the ‘Request for Test’ form and if you are eligible, the at-home test will be sent to you by mail.
8) How often are screening tests being mailed?
Individuals aged 50 to 74 will be invited by letter to participate in the program.
The NB Colon Cancer Screening Program will keep track of who has been mailed a screening test and will invite most people to repeat their screening test every two years.
9) When will I get my first screening test?
You can expect to receive your invitation by mail if you are 50 to 74 years old with a valid NB health care number.
To request a test, you will need to answer some questions to determine whether the at-home test is the right screening test for you.
• Answering “No” to all questions means you will be mailed the at-home test.
• Answering “Yes” to any of the questions, may mean you are not eligible.
• If you check “Yes” to the colonoscopy question (#7) and check “no” to all other questions, an invitation will be re-sent to you five years from the date entered.