B.C. health experts respond to colonoscopy screening policies after woman receives terminal cancer diagnosis
B.C.’s health minister says he’s willing to listen as a Saanich mother, who’s been told her time is running out, fights to help change a system that she says failed her.
Jordan Millar is advocating for routine colonoscopy screenings starting much earlier than the typical age of 50.
She says earlier screenings could spare others her fate. She started seeing doctors in her 20s for symptoms of colon cancer, even though she didn’t have any risk factors. But, she says it took more than a decade for a doctor to request a colonoscopy, and by then her cancer had spread.
"I would be happy to talk to your viewer about her concerns and about her experiences with them," said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday.
Dix says the circumstances she describes are "tragic" – but stops short of calling for changes too.
"Those decisions about how we provide care are provided on medical advice," he said.
BC Cancer recommends colonoscopy screenings every two years for people without symptoms once they’re aged 50 to 74.
"Mostly because the incidence of colorectal cancer is most common in that age group," said Dr. Denis Petrunia, a gastroenterologist.
Petrunia is also a colonoscopy lead for BC Cancer and says the routine screening age could soon be lowered to 45, but adds that there isn’t good evidence to start younger than that.
"To screen the younger population would not be cost beneficial," he said. "It would cost more to screen a large number of people to identify a very small number with the disease."
In B.C., the most recent statistics for colorectal cancer are from 2018, using data from the BC Cancer Registry.
The registry shows a total of 2,945 cases were diagnosed that year. Of those cases, 85 were in Millar’s category of people aged 20 to 39.
That said, BC Cancer and Dr. Petrunia say people should talk to their doctor about an earlier colonoscopy if they have a family history or symptoms – like blood in their stool, changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, tiredness and/or vomiting.
According to BC Cancer – when colon cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 90 per cent.
Tragically, that wasn’t the case for Millar who is still holding her head high despite being told she could have days to weeks left to live.
"I’m not giving up," she says.