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St. Joseph's Health Centre Toronto

Screening taboo leads to delayed detection of colon cancer

Dr. Ian Bookman

Despite having screening programs in place to help with early detection of colon cancer, a new report from the Canadian Cancer Society shows one in two colorectal cancers in Canada are being diagnosed after they’ve spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Dr. Ian Bookman, gastroenterologist at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, says this is because people are not regularly being screened.

“It’s still a cultural taboo and misconception. People don’t feel comfortable talking about their colons, colonoscopies and stool tests. And people still think it is a disease of older men, when in truth it is split between men and women almost equally, and is increasingly affecting younger people,” said Dr. Bookman.

“I think this report reiterates what we already know in the medical community and what we are trying to communicate with the public: colon cancer is still the second most common cause of cancer deaths and yet the most preventable.”

In 2017, colorectal cancer accounted for 9,400 deaths in Canada. The report, produced in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada, found that the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer diagnosed at stage 4 is less than 15 per cent. But that rate increases to 90 per cent when it is diagnosed earlier, at stage 1. It says fewer Canadians would die from this disease if more people were screened by either proactively identifying any precancerous growths so they can be removed before they turn into cancer or detecting cancer when it’s most treatable.

“Screening is a quick and painless process,” said Dr. Ian Bookman. “This type of cancer can be prevented – we just have to catch it early enough.”

 Screening for colorectal cancer involves a test that checks your stool for blood which can’t be seen with the eyes caused by polyps or tumours in the colon. If a stool test shows traces of blood in the stool, more tests need to be done to find out where the bleeding is coming from and why.

“Please save lives – get screened and tell family members to get screened,” said Dr. Bookman. “Talk to your family doctor about how to get screened.”

Dr. Bookman is the founder of Bum Run, a not for profit organization that hosts an annual 5 kilometre walk/run event to raise awareness of colorectal cancer.

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