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Province announces new colorectal cancer screening program

A new provincewide colorectal cancer screening program will kick off on Vancouver Island April 1.

The primary-care based program, announced by Health minister Margaret MacDiarmid on Nov. 5, is targeting increased patient participation by offering the fecal immunochemical test (FIT), a simple take-home sample kit which does not require changes to medication or diet.

General practitioners will now refer patients between the ages of 50 and 74 without symptoms for a screening test once every two years. Patients with a significant family history of colorectal cancer will be referred to their regional health authority for a screening colonoscopy.

A complete provincial colorectal screening program will be phased in with all health authorities on board over the spring and summer of 2013.

Through the Medical Services Plan, the Ministry of Health will support general practitioner and specialist (colonoscopist) fees, and the laboratory fee for the FIT while the BC Cancer Agency will provide overall leadership and provincial oversight of the new model.

The announcement is welcome news for the Canadian Cancer Society, wich has been advocating for a colorectal cancer screening program for years, says Erin Hemmens, coordinator of health promotion at the cancer society’s Nanaimo office.

“We are very pleased that this program will be offered to all British Columbians,” she said.

Information from the society states that colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in men and women combined. In 2012, they estimate 2,850 British Columbians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and of those, approximately 1,150 will die.

“Colorectal cancer screening will save lives,” said Kathryn Seely, society’s public issues director. “It is a disease that grows (typically) predictably and slowly so it can be caught by screening before symptoms occur. If it’s caught before symptoms occur, it can usually be treated very well and be curable at that stage.”

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