Cancer screening welcomed

Local physicians are optimistic that a new emphasis on colorectal cancer will benefit patients.

Local physicians are optimistic that a new emphasis on colorectal cancer will benefit patients.

The Ministry of Health is launching a provincewide colorectal cancer screening program April 1.

“This announcement is good news for the citizens of the North Okanagan,” said Dr. Hamish Hwang, physician chairperson of the ambulatory care unit at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.

“A study done at VJH showed an unacceptable proportion — 43 per cent — of colon cancers were diagnosed with advanced tumours needing emergency surgery and these patients did poorly compared to when the tumours were detected on screening. Emergency patients also stayed longer in the hospital and had higher health care costs.”

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.

It’s estimated that 1,600 men will be diagnosed with the disease in B.C. in 2012 and 630 men will die.

The new screening program will begin with publicly-funded fecal immunochemical tests, which are easier for patients to complete at home and requires no changes to medication or diet.

The remainder of the screening program will be phased in over the spring and summer of 2013.

“I think it’s an excellent initiative,” said Dr. Ed  Hardy, medical oncologist at VJH.

“Up until now, patients have had to pay for their fecal occult blood testing, and there hasn’t been a centralized repository of results, etc.  Also, linking the family history to the scope requests makes a great deal of sense.  I expect that this will start to show some early results.”

Patients and physicians will be sent reminders as to when rescreening is needed.

Hwang believes VJH could play a significant role in the screening initiative because a second endoscopy room has been constructed in the Polson tower.

“Physicians and administrators have been proactive and a business plan is currently being developed to complete and equip the second room,” he said.

“Once the second room is finished, this would immediately allow 30 per cent more screening colonoscopies to be done during the week with a potential of 100 per cent — double the number we do now — over time,” he said.