You may not know it, but March has been designated Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada. To honour the occasion, CCAC has launched a campaign entitled Get Your Butt Seen. The campaign aims to encourage Canadians to get screened for colorectal cancer if they suspect their lifestyle, or family history, may put them at risk for developing the disease.

Five hundred and ten people from the province will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and 250 of them will die from it.

Newfoundland and Labrador is no stranger to this type of cancer, as we boast the highest incidence of familial colorectal cancer — passed on genetically — in the world. The province also has the highest rate of this cancer, familial or otherwise, in all of Canada. Five hundred and ten people from the province (300 men and 210 women) will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and 250 of them (140 men and 110 women) will die from it.

What’s being done

In order to reduce the deadly impact this cancer has on N.L., the previous administration under former-premier Danny Williams launched the Provincial Colorectal Cancer Screening Program. This program is focused on reducing the mortality rate from colorectal cancer by promoting early detection, via screening, in people aged 50 to 74 who do not yet show symptoms of the disease. The 2010 budget allocated $240,000 to cover the initial implementation of the screening process and over the next two years, the total budget will rise to $4.3 million.

Researchers at Memorial University are also hard at work trying to find ways to fight bowel cancer in the province. The Faculty of Medicine at MUN conducts research into this cancer at community genetics clinics in St. John’s and Grand Falls-Windsor, with plans for future clinics in Corner Brook and St. Anthony.

Jane Green, a medical geneticist at MUN, is a member of a research team comprised of medical doctors, nurses and PhDs including Elizabeth Dicks, Roger Green, Elizabeth Hatfield, Dr. Patrick Parfrey, Dr. Bill Pollet, Dr. Peter Wang, Christine Way, Michael Woods and Ban Younghusband.

When asked about the purpose of the clinics, Green explains their prime function isn’t research.

“Making these classifications allows for proper screening and treatment.” –Jane Green

“The clinics are there to provide clinical services first and then research second. Individuals who have a new diagnosis of colon cancer will be invited to attend these clinics. When they show up, a family history will be taken — they will be assessed as low, intermediate or high risk and proper screening and treatment recommendations will be made. After this is complete, some people will be asked to participate in research studies looking for new genes that cause colon cancer. We’re also looking into whether or not screening for colorectal cancer improves long term outcomes.”

Green claims it is essential to study the family histories of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“With this information it is then possible to group people as low-risk when there are few, or no other, family members with colon cancer, and typically cancer occurs at a later age. Or as intermediate-risk — which is always hard to determine — if there are a number of family members with colon cancer or another cancer.”

Green says the third group, those at high-risk, are individuals with several immediate family members with colon cancer and the onset occurs before the age of 50.

“With this group other family members have a high risk of developing colon cancer. Making these classifications allows for proper screening and treatment.”

Raising awareness

The Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society is doing its part to help promote the provincial screening program and facilitate research by raising awareness about the importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer.

“…in the long run, less people will end up dying from their cancer.” –Matthew Piercey

“We have funding to hire a volunteer education coordinator. We’ll actually be hiring for this position next week. The coordinator will work out of our Corner Brook office, and train volunteers in the area to deliver health promotion presentations to various groups on the importance of early screening, and the importance of healthy lifestyle,” says Matthew Piercey, executive director of the local Cancer Society.

The new volunteer education coordinator will not focus solely on colon cancer, but the job will be based in Corner Brook in order to put emphasis on the need for healthy lifestyle promotion and more cancer screening services in rural N.L.

It will take time to measure the success of these initiatives in the fight against colorectal cancer in our province, but Piercey is optimistic.

“In the beginning, it might seem like colon cancer rates go up, because more and more people will be tested, so there will be more cancer diagnoses. But in the long run, less people will end up dying from their cancer,” Piercey says.

A look at colorectal cancer Canada-wide:
chart

Source: The Canadian Cancer Society