Colorectal Cancer: Time for a Colonversation

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Zoomer has a “colonversation” with Dr. Heather Bryant, vice-president of Cancer Control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

Vivian Vassos: How the testing has changed over the years to be easier?

Dr. Heather Bryant: “Early detection leads to fewer cases of colorectal cancer and better outcomes for those who are diagnosed with the disease. Checking regularly for colorectal cancer – also known as screening – is our best line of defence against this highly treatable cancer. Colon cancer screening is easy to do with a simple test at home.  Across Canada, these kits are available through provincial and territorial screening programs. It’s important that people over the age of 50 speak with their family health-care provider to ensure that colon cancer screening becomes a regular part of their health routine.”

VV: Why is the benchmark 50 and older? Do instances rise as we age?

HB: Colon cancer screening is recommended for Canadians 50 years and older because colon cancer is much more common past that age. This is also the age group for which we have evidence that screening average-risk people is effective. It’s also recommended that those at higher risk – for example, have a family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or benign polyps – start to get screened at a younger age. It’s best for those in the higher risk category to speak with their doctor about when to start screening for colon cancer.

While colon cancer is the second leading cause of death caused by cancer, if it’s caught early, it can be highly treatable. That is why it is important that Canadians 50 years and older get screened regularly for colon cancer.

VV: Tips on starting a colonversation

HB: We understand that talking to loved ones about colon health can seem awkward, but starting a colonversation can truly be life-saving. If you’ve having trouble figuring out how to bring up the topic, we recommend the following tips:

  • Try starting the conversation by relating your own personal experience, with something like: “Since I’m over 50, my doctor insisted I do a colon cancer screening test … have you done one?”
  • You can also start the conversation by saying you have an appointment with your doctor soon and that you are going to ask about colon cancer screening. Then share what you know about getting checked.
  • Mention that your health routine includes getting checked for colon cancer. Tell them about the test and how you found out about it.
  • Tell them that you got your at-home screening kit and discuss what it is.


VV: My husband has a family history of colon cancer. His test was not as simple as a test at home. He had to do a round of awful liquids, laxatives and other such invasive things before he even saw the specialist. How does this differ from the screening you are talking about?

HB: Because of his family history with colon cancer, he is considered at higher risk for colon cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you may need to get checked before age 50. A colonoscopy may be how you get checked. It is important to talk to your doctor about your family history and find out which test is right for you.

For most Canadians who are not high risk, screening can be done via a simple at-home test every two years. These at-home stool tests look for hidden traces of blood in your stool.

The Colonversation Campaign
The Colonversation campaign ( was launched by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer in collaboration with the National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network in March 2010 to increase public awareness of the benefits of colorectal cancer screening, to assist care providers through the provision of patient resources and to support provincial and territorial efforts. Visitors can learn important facts about screening including where and how to get screened, make use of educational videos, and share the news through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Additional Information on Colon Cancer Screening

In 2011, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and its National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network released the Colon Cancer Screening in Canada survey, which polled 4,050 Canadians aged 45 to 74 years old on their understanding and attitudes towards getting checked for colon cancer. Conducted by Ipsos Reid, the survey built on results from a related survey conducted in 2009.

The survey revealed that half (50 per cent) of Canadians age 50 to 74 polled have been screened for colon cancer, showing a Canada-wide increase when compared to similar data captured in 2009.  However more than half (53 per cent) of those polled incorrectly believe that people should only get checked after experiencing symptoms. In 2011, an estimated 22,200 Canadians were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011 and 8,900 people died of it.

More information about the survey can be found here.