B.C. survivors and health professionals urge testing during National Colon Cancer Awareness month
Doctors, patients and advocates are uniting for a reminder to older British Columbians to request a free colon cancer screening test – as we mark National Colon Cancer Awareness month.
The Fecal Immunochemical Test is recommended for people aged 50 to 74. According to BC Cancer, it looks for small amounts of blood in the stool, which can be a sign of cancer or precancerous growths.
"It’s one of the most common cancers diagnosed in British Columbia," says the medical director of the agency’s colon screening program, Dr. Jennifer Telford.
"One in six British Columbians will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer in their lifetime," she said.
The take-home tests are available for free from primary care providers. BC Cancer says the risk of colon cancer increases with age, with 80 per cent of cases being diagnosed in people over the age of 50.
If it’s caught in the earliest stage, the survival rate is more than 90 per cent.
"If I could take a look at a balance and weigh the ick factor of doing a simple home-based stool test versus going through years of treatment, possibly not surviving – I think it’s a pretty easy equation," said Barry Stein, Colorectal Cancer Canada’s president and CEO.
A Courtenay woman who was diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2019 is also encouraging people who are eligible to follow up. Although, it didn’t help her.
Manna Wescott was diagnosed when she was 42-years-old before she was eligible for the routine screening – and after she had already been experiencing symptoms.
"Anemia, for example," she says. "I had blood in my stool."
Wescott wants others to learn the signs and symptoms so they can advocate for themselves.
"It’s all about self-advocacy and paying attention to all of the little details," said Wescott.
According to BC Cancer, signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer can also include pain in your lower abdomen or pelvis and a change in bowel habits, such as constipation or different size of stool.
"It took nine months from having some really acute symptoms to finally getting a colonoscopy and then being told on the spot that they knew I had cancer," said Wescott.
Three and a half years since her stage four diagnosis, she says she doesn’t have any evidence of disease. She’s under active monitoring every six months.
"We just hope for the best with every scan," she says.
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