Cancer survivor encourages residents to `Check their Plumbing’ with new FIT colon cancer screening test

Roy Birnie

Hamilton Mountain resident Roy Birnie is encouraging men and women across the region to `check their plumbing’ with the new at-home fecal immunochemical test (FIT) that screens for signs of colorectal cancer, commonly called colon or bowel cancer.

FIT is now available free across the province through Cancer Care Ontario’s organized colon cancer screening program, ColonCancerCheck. This test is for Ontario residents, ages 50 to 74, with no first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister or child) diagnosed with colon cancer and no symptoms such as changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or abdominal pain. This screening program targets the 50-to-74 age range because that’s when people are at the greatest risk of developing colon cancer.

“I’m a cancer survivor, so I know the importance of prevention and early detection,” says Roy, a director with Hamilton-based plumbing company Birnie and Sons. Roy, 70, has never had colon cancer, but several years ago he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and is in now remission.

“I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone,” said Roy, one of five Birnie and Sons representatives partnering with the Regional Cancer Program to promote the FIT. He’s joined by fellow director Bob Birnie of Stoney Creek, company owner Rob Birnie of Cayuga, plumber Paul Spelman of Burlington and operations manager Gerry O’Shaughnessy of Hamilton.

As champions for FIT, the men are sharing their personal stories about why they make time for colon cancer screening through social media and community campaigns organized by the Regional Cancer Program. You can read their stories at or follow on the Regional Cancer Program’s social media: Facebook @screenforlifecoach and Twitter @HNHB_Cancer

Screening can catch signs of colon cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. When caught early, nine out of every 10 people with colon cancer can be cured. FIT is a simple, safe and accurate at-home test that checks stool (poop) for tiny amounts of blood, which could be caused by colon cancer and/or growths called polyps that can turn into cancer over time. Eligible residents are encouraged to take the test every two years.

FIT kits are available through family doctors or nurse practitioners. Anyone without a healthcare provider can call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-828-9213 or the Mobile Cancer Screening Coach at 1-855-338-3131. LifeLabs will mail eligible people a FIT kit following a request from their provider. The completed test can be mailed back to the lab or dropped off at a LifeLabs Patient Service Centre. For LifeLabs locations, visit

If the test comes back positive, the next step is a colonoscopy for a closer look.

FIT replaces the fecal occult blood test (FOBT) for routine screening. FIT is a more sensitive screening test which means it is better at detecting colon cancer and pre-cancerous polyps. It’s also more user-friendly and requires only one stool sample. And there are no medication or dietary restrictions (including vitamin C) with FIT.

Colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ontario and the second most common cause of cancer deaths, said Dr. Barry Lumb, Regional Endoscopy Lead for ColonCancerCheck, Physician in Chief at Hamilton Health Sciences and Professor with McMaster University’s Department of Medicine.

“Screening is important because when caught early enough, 90 per cent of people with colon cancer can be cured. We are grateful to have Roy and his colleagues as cancer screening champions because men, in particular, have a tendency to put off seeing their healthcare provider until they’re experiencing symptoms. We want all eligible Ontario residents to be proactive by staying up-to-date with cancer screening. By catching signs of colon cancer early instead of waiting until symptoms develop, they’ll have more treatment options.”

Eligible Ontario residents will continue to receive letters inviting them to get screened, telling them about their test results, letting them know if they need to get more tests done and reminding them when it is time to be screened again.

For more information on colon cancer screening, visit