Cancer

Get checked for colon cancer, even during the COVID-19 pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals have reported a decrease in colon cancer cases compared to a normal year. While this may sound like good news, many healthcare providers are concerned.

“COVID-19 could not have possibly cured these cancers, so we know that there are people out there who have colon cancer but just don’t know it. There are probably even some people who have symptoms but are too afraid to see their doctor or nurse practitioner because of the pandemic”, says Dr. Lisa Del Giudice, Regional Primary Care Lead – Cancer Screening, Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program.

In the fall of 2020, colon cancer screening fully resumed in Ontario. Getting screened helps find colon cancer early, when it is more likely to be cured. When colon cancer is caught early, 9 out of 10 people can be cured.

This Colon Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Del Giudice would like to remind you: “Don’t let COVID-19 stop you from getting checked for this preventable cancer or from seeking medical attention if you are having any symptoms”.

There are things that you can do to lower your chance of getting colon cancer:

  • Limit alcohol – no amount of drinking has been found safe to prevent an increased risk of colon cancer (or, any amount of alcohol can increase the chance of getting colon cancer);
  • Limit red meat and try not to eat processed meat (e.g., bologna, salami);
  • Have a have body weight within guidelines;
  • Be physically active as part of everyday life;
  • Eat a diet high in fibre (including vegetables and fruits);
  • Quit smoking and stop using tobacco products (e.g., cigarettes, chewing tobacco); and
  • Get screened with FIT.

Learn more about your colon cancer risk and how to reduce your risk at My CancerIQ.

What you should know about colon cancer screening:

People ages 50 to 74 without any symptoms and with no first degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) who has been diagnosed with colon cancer should talk to their doctor or nurse practitioner about getting checked with the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) every two years.

  • FIT is a free, safe and painless at-home cancer screening test that checks your stool (poop) for tiny amounts of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps (abnormal growths on the lining of the colon or rectum that could turn into cancer over time)

If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about when and how you should be screened.

If you are due or overdue for your colon cancer screening test, please contact your family doctor or nurse practitioner.

  • If you do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner, you can get a FIT by calling Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213.
  • If you live in a First Nation community, you can contact your health centre or nursing station.

Read more about FIT.

An abnormal test result does not mean it is colon cancer:

An abnormal FIT result does not necessarily mean that you have colon cancer, but it does mean that additional testing is needed. “If you have an abnormal FIT result, be sure to go for all follow-up tests that are recommended by your doctor or nurse practitioner” says Dr. Del Giudice.

It is important to get checked!

Dr. Del Giudice says it is important to get checked because there are often no problems or physical symptoms during the early stages of colon cancer. As colon cancer develops over time, the following problems and symptoms may occur:

  • Unexplained anemia (drop in red blood cell count) that is caused by a lack of iron;
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool (poop);
  • Unexplained weight loss;
  • New and persistent diarrhea, constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely; and
  • New and persistent stomach discomfort.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner right away.

This Colon Cancer Awareness Month, visit My CancerIQ to learn more about your colon cancer risk, and talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner about your screening options. For more information, visit www.cancercareontario.ca/colon

Blog Authors:

Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program, Cancer Screening

Dr. Lisa Del Giudice, Regional Primary Care Lead – Cancer Screening, Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program and Family Physician, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Academic Family Health Team

About the author

Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program

Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program

Sunnybrook's Odette Cancer Centre is a co-leading Regional Cancer Centre of the Toronto Central Regional Cancer Program, which oversees the delivery and quality of cancer services for the more than one million residents of Central Toronto.