Dr. Jordan Green Answers Common Colon Cancer Screening Questions

FIT kit
A FIT kit is a simple, at-home test to screen for colon cancer.

Nearly 40% of eligible adults in Northwestern Ontario are not up-to-date with their colon cancer screening. Knowing that colon cancer is 90% curable when detected early through screening, we really need to encourage our population to get screened.

How do you get screened? Do you need a colonoscopy? Does that new at-home test work well? These are all questions that Dr. Jordan Green, MD, FRCPC, Gastroenterologist, Regional Colorectal Screening GI/Endoscopy Co-Lead, answers for you!

Myth or Fact? The at-home colon cancer screening test doesn’t work well.

“MYTH: The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) kit is a great method for colon cancer screening for average risk individuals. The test can conveniently be performed at home and there are no dietary or medication changes required. The test is quite sensitive at detecting colon cancer and advanced polyps by measuring microscopic amounts of blood in the stool sample, and studies suggest it reduces the mortality associated with colon cancer. It is a much more convenient and sensitive test than the prior stool screening method, the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) kit which was phased out in 2019.”

Which screening method is better for an average risk individual, a colonoscopy or the FIT kit?

“The FIT test is the preferred screening method for patients with an average risk for colorectal cancer. Average risk is defined by being between ages of 50 to 74 years, with no symptoms and no first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) having been diagnosed with colon cancer.”

What is the benefit of doing a FIT kit vs a colonoscopy?

“There are several benefits of performing a FIT test instead of a colonoscopy. The test is safe and avoids the use of a bowel preparation, sedation, and the potential risks associated with colonoscopy. Patients can do the test in the convenience of their own home and do not need to take time away from work or other activities in order to complete the test.”

What would you say to someone who says ‘well, my doctor will just send me for colonoscopy?’

“While we are trying to increase the uptake of colon cancer screening in our community, not all patients require a colonoscopy. This is an important discussion to have with your primary care provider. First, one should ensure that they meet criteria for screening, and confirm whether they are considered average or high risk. This will then help guide which screening test is most appropriate for each individual patient.”

Has the new FIT kit resulted in any changes to colonoscopy locally?

“Since the implementation of FIT in 2019, we are seeing increased numbers of screening in our community. We are also getting a larger number of referrals for FIT positive cases, compared with the older stool screening test (FOBT). This is an indication that FIT is working well; patients are agreeing to be screened because it a convenient and simple test to do. Furthermore, it shows us that the test is sensitive, and identifies patients who need to go forward with a colonoscopy.”

What would you say to someone to encourage them to get screened for colon cancer?

“Globally, colon cancer is the third most common cancer. If detected early, approximately 90% of people are cured. Screening is a proven method for detecting cancer early. It is a simple test to do that may prove to be life saving.”

If you are between the ages of 50 and 74 years, you should be screened for colon cancer regularly. Make an appointment with your health care provider to get your FIT kit. If you don’t have a health care provider, you can book an appointment on the Screen for Life Coach by calling (807) 684-7777 or calling Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213. Find out more about cancer screening by visiting, www.tbrhsc.net/cancerscreening.