B.C.’s colon cancer screening program moves forward

British Columbia's new colon cancer screening program is moving forward

  • Apr. 17, 2013 7:00 a.m.

British Columbia’s new colon cancer screening program is moving forward with the availability of a new, easy-to-use test that will help save lives by supporting the early detection of this disease.

The screening program started April 1, with the availability of the publicly-funded fecal immunochemical test (FIT). The program is primary-care-based and will see physicians referring patients between the ages of 50 and 74 for testing to ensure that those British Columbians at most risk of developing colorectal cancer receive regular screening.

Most patients will be referred for a FIT once every two years. Individuals who have a significant family history of colorectal cancer will be referred to their regional health authority for a screening colonoscopy.

Family physicians will provide patients with a test requisition, which they can take to their local community or private laboratory. The laboratory will provide the patient with the FIT and detailed instructions for use. Patients will need to return the test to the laboratory for processing and results will be provided to the family physician.

The colon cancer screening program will include a number of unique features, including health authority patient co-ordinators to provide support to patients who are referred for colonoscopy. Patient co-ordinators will be able to confirm eligibility of patients going for colonoscopy and will help ensure access for priority cases and most efficient use of colonoscopy resources.

The additional components of the program will roll out first in the Vancouver Island Health Authority, with the remaining health authorities coming on board later this spring and summer.

Many aspects of the successful colon check pilot program will carry over into the new program, including the FIT, health authority patient co-ordinators, quality and performance standards and patient reminders. The new model builds on the experiences of the pilot program and ensures that family physicians have a strong role in the screening patient pathway.

The BC Cancer Agency will provide overall leadership and provincial oversight of the new program.

The program includes fees for practitioners, specialists and laboratory medicine services that will be paid through B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. These costs will depend on how many patients participate in the program.

Additional program expenditures related to introducing FIT, increasing public awareness, developing a centralized participant registry and developing a system for data collection and monitoring are estimated to be in the range of $5 million to $10 million annually, depending upon patient participation.

For more information on colorectal cancer and B.C.’s new screening program, visit www.screeningbc.ca




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According to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Canada and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men. It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women.

However, according to 2012 estimates in the CCS’s Cancer Statistics report, British Columbian men and woman have the lowest incidence rates for lung and colorectal cancers.

It is estimated that close to 3,000 British Columbians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2013.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, and if detected at its earliest stage, is 90 per cent curable.

Colorectal cancer often does not cause symptoms until after it has begun to spread.

Age is the biggest risk factor for colon cancer. More than 94 per cent of new cases diagnosed each year in B.C. are in men and women age 50 or older.

Other risk factors include a family history of the disease, excessive alcohol consumption, a diet high in fat, red meat or fried and charbroiled foods, smoking and obesity.

Spending on cancer care and control through the BC Cancer Agency increased to $564 million in 2011/12. This is an increase of more than 173 per cent from $206 million in 2000/01.