Fighting colon cancer is often as much about battling misconceptions as brawling with the disease itself.
That’s why Dr. Jose Nazareno is so positive about a new screening program for the disease begun at the local Rouge Valley Centenary health centre.
The colon cancer clinic was set up in January and is spearheaded by Cancer Care Ontario.
Nazareno says both men and women ages 50 and over should do the screening and continue to do so every 10 years. He says from his understanding, in 2005, of all the people in Ontario that qualified for colon cancer screening, only 20 per cent were getting screened.
“It’s going to be the second leading cancer and the second leading death from cancer, just after lung cancer,” he says. “But not a lot of people know about it until recently.”
Nazareno emphasizes people should not be mistaken about colon cancer being gender specific. It applies to both men and women and they should be informed and aware of the risks, the misconceptions, and the importance of doing the screening.
“The thing about colon cancer that’s different from a lot of other cancers is that if you find a polyp – which is basically a small tumor – if you take out that polyp, it actually prevents it from becoming colon cancer, whereas you don’t have that same thing for lung cancer and other cancers.”
He says there is a common misconception about the colon cancer screening process because many people think that it is a difficult and painful thing.
“But for the most part, the most difficult part of it is taking the preparation because the day before people have to take laxatives to clean their bowel,” Nazareno says.
The procedure takes about 15 to 20 minutes and the patient is sedated during the process. They would spend an additional two hours at the hospital, but other than that, Nazareno says it is not a difficult process.
The other issue was accessibility to screening.
But now the government has dedicated money to resources for colonoscopies such as scopes, nurses, cleaners, recovery beds, and time for the rooms which makes accessibility easier. Rouge Valley is among the several hospitals in Ontario that has been allotted money for colonoscopies.
Nazareno says they are hoping the program reduces the rate of colon cancer by around 90 per cent and adds it is quite common because at the age of 50, about 30 per cent of people will have this problem.
“It’s important to do because by the time you have symptoms, it’s too late,” says Dr. Gordon Bierbrier, another doctor at Rouge Valley.
For someone with a family history of colon cancer, they should start screening for colon cancer at the age of 40.
They urge people to talk to their doctors and become aware of the risks.
“I think it’s just awareness,” Nazareno says.