Colorectal cancer screening needed

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Muffy Truscott beat the odds, but the 58-year-old Regina woman said nobody should gamble with their health when it comes to colorectal cancer.

Truscott, who was successfully treated for bowel cancer 20 years ago, wants the government to improve the odds for Saskatchewan residents by establishing a provincial colorectal cancer screening program.

“We so desperately need a colorectal cancer screening program in Saskatchewan,” Truscott said.

She added such a program would lead to early detection of this largely preventable disease which claims the lives of 8,500 Canadians last year.

Saskatchewan had 620 new cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed in 2006 and an estimated 280 people died from this disease, according to the Canadian Cancer Society Web site.

“I was diagnosed 20 years ago. I was 37 years of age at the time Ñ so I was outside the profile of a typical colorectal cancer person,” Truscott said.

“I had symptoms for some time, but I had no idea what colorectal cancer was and I didn’t know what the symptoms were as well.”

By the time she was diagnosed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, requiring Truscott to undergo bowel resection surgery, as well as radiation and chemotherapy. Today she is cancer-free but lives with a permanent colostomy.

“I do believe in screening. I think, just like we do for breast cancer now, once a person reaches 50 years of age it is so important they are screened because the incidence of this type of cancer rises with age. It most affects persons between the ages of 50 and 74,” Truscott said.

Barry Stein, president of the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC), is also calling on the Saskatchewan government to introduce a provincial screening program and provide coverage for costly cancer drugs such as Avastin.

“I think it is incumbent on Saskatchewan to bring in screening at this time, particularly given the hard line that they have chosen to take in terms of drug reimbursement or medication reimbursement for colorectal cancer,” Stein said from Montreal.

“At the end of the day there are people who getting colorectal cancer who could have been prevented from getting colorectal by having a screening program and there are many patients who are not getting the treatment they should be getting for their disease and that is not acceptable.”

While the province is not reconsidering its decision on Avastin, Valerie Phillips, a health department official, said the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency is evaluating the pros and cons of existing screening programs across the country and will make its recommendation to the department shortly.

“We recognize screening is very important. Colorectal cancer is one of the top four cancers,” Phillips said, noting there are about the same number of colorectal cancer cases as breast cancer cases in the province.

The national committee on colorectal screening recommends that screening involving testing for blood in stool samples be done every two years in adults aged 50 to 74.

“Patients in Saskatchewan have access to all of the tests and services and they are encouraged to discuss any risk factors for colorectal cancer with their doctors and the options for colorectal screening,” Phillips said.

Patients with positive test results are referred for further follow-up tests – such as a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy of the rectum, she added.

Last year Sask Health provided $700,000 to the Regina Qu’Appelle and Saskatoon health regions for an additional 1,900 endoscopy procedures which included screening for colorectal cancers and other conditions.

“What we don’t have is an organized screening program like we have for breast cancer and cervical cancer,” Phillips said, noting the challenge is screening the more hard-to-reach and at-risk populations.

Individuals also have to be proactive in protecting their health by educating themselves about the symptoms of colorectal cancer, the risk factors and how to prevent the disease through healthy lifestyle choices, Truscott said.