Colorectal cancer in Canada

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In 2007, colorectal cancer will kill approximately 8700 Canadians.

To draw attention to this situation, Dr. Alan Barkun, Director of the gastroenterology department at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and Dr. Ken Flegel, service chief in internal medicine, have coauthored an editorial that will appear in the September 11, 2007 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Canada's mortality rate from colorectal cancer is in large part due to Canadian policy failures in terms of adequate prevention and screening, say Dr Barkun and Dr Flegel. As a result, the percentage of at-risk patients who are screened is only 23.5% in Canada compared to 62.9% in the USA. This means that Canadian patients often receive treatment at an advanced stage of the disease, which greatly reduces their chances for success.

Dr Barkun and Dr Flegel point out that effective screening tests do exist; when administered regularly, they are an easy way to prevent the disease from developing. In fact, malignant tumours are almost always preceded by benign polyps that can be easily detected by searching stools for blood or through colonoscopy or CT colonography. Research is currently being done on other detection methods that are even more advanced.

Both patients and practitioners must be educated about the importance of colorectal cancer screening if this situation is to be corrected. A proactive education program that includes all those affected must therefore be established nationally.

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