Early colorectal cancer detection program at local hospitals saves lives

March 21st, 2013

WATERLOO REGION — Selwyn Gundy didn’t feel sick when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“I was a healthy person on the outside, but you can’t see what’s going on on the inside,” said the 68-year-old Kitchener resident.

“I was probably asked a half dozen times by doctors and nurses, ‘well, what symptoms did you have?’ and I hadn’t got any.”

The disease that had silently developed in his body was caught early and treated, Gundy said, thanks to the recommendation by his family physician to try a new screening program available at local hospitals.

“I always go back to my doctor, he’s a supporter of this program and thank goodness that he is,” Gundy said.

Grand River and St. Mary’s General hospitals introduced the flexible sigmoidoscopy — better known as flex sig — program in 2011 to give average risk individuals ages 50 to 74 years more options to get tested for colorectal cancer.

“(The goal) is sort of twofold,” said Debbie Reichert, co-ordinator and patient educator for the program at Grand River Hospital, “early detection of colorectal cancer that may be starting before symptoms show and the second is to look for adenomas (or polyps) that have the potential … to turn into a colon cancer.”

The test is similar to a colonoscopy but does not involve the same preparation of a day of fasting or taking laxatives, does not require sedation and is performed by a specialized registered nurse, not a doctor.

Patients only need to arrive at the hospital 30 minutes before their appointment. A nurse will administer an enema prior to the test. A scope is then used to look at only the lower area of the colon where polyps or abnormalities can signal a risk for cancer.

The test takes about 15 to 20 minutes to perform and there is no recovery time required after.

“I wouldn’t call it an attractive test,” Gundy said making light of his experience. “But I must admit … there’s no pain involved at all, if anything it is a bit uncomfortable but that’s all.”

People interested in the test must contact the clinic by calling 519-749-6578, ext. 4046, and ask a referral to be sent to their family doctor. Once approved, they can book an appointment for the test at either hospital they prefer.

Colorectal cancer is currently the second-leading type of cancer to cause death among Canadians, resulting in over 9,000 deaths in 2012, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Of those diagnosed with the disease, 75 per cent were of average risk, meaning they had no previous instance of the disease, first-degree family history or conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or polyps.

Caught early, the disease is 90 per cent curable.

The flex sig program is intended to improve the rate of discovering the disease early — and it’s achieving just that.

Gundy was one of four patients from the almost 900 tested that would be diagnosed with cancer.

He had five prior fecal occult blood tests that are designed to detect trace amounts of blood in a stool sample, signalling if a tumour or polyp is bleeding. Gundy’s test all came back clear.

“Some polyps do bleed, but some don’t and some tumours bleed but some don’t,” Reichert said, explaining why the flex sig test is important in addition to fecal occult blood tests.

Unaware of his family history of colorectal cancer at the time, Gundy was not required to receive any additional testing. It was by chance he decided to take his doctor up on the offer for the flex sig exam.

“I was surprised because you don’t expect it,” said Gundy about the diagnosis.

Now cancer-free and in no need of further treatment, Gundy is recommending to those around him to get the test done, too.

“You’ve got nothing to lose by doing this,” Gundy said. “It’s better to find out sooner than later.”

Philip Walker, Waterloo Region Record