Close family history of colon cancer motivates Hamilton plumber to promote new province-wide screening test for prevention/early detection

Paul Spelman

Burlington resident Paul Spelman believes that early detection through colorectal cancer screening could have saved his father’s life.

That’s why the Birnie and Sons plumber is throwing his support behind a campaign promoting a new province-wide screening test for colorectal cancer – often called colon or bowel cancer. Screening can help prevent colon cancer or find it early when it’s easier to treat.

The fecal immunochemical test (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.

Paul and four of his colleagues from the Hamilton-based plumbing company Birnie and Sons are partnering with the Regional Cancer Program to promote the FIT across the region. Joining Paul are company directors Bob and Roy Birnie, company owner Rob Birnie and operations manager Gerry O’Shaughnessy.

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 hnhbscreenforlife.ca or follow on the Regional Cancer Program’s social media: Facebook @screenforlifecoach and Twitter @HNHB_Cancer

Regular screening means colon cancer can be found before symptoms develop like changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or abdominal pain. Anyone with symptoms or with a first-degree family member (parent, sibling or child) diagnosed with colon cancer should speak to their healthcare provider about next steps, since they may be at an increased risk of developing the disease.

Paul’s father was diagnosed at age 52 after experiencing symptoms. He underwent radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to remove his colon. He beat cancer, but never healed properly and died several years later from complications.

Paul, 50, gets colonoscopies instead of taking the at-home test because of his first-degree family history. Polyps discovered during his colonoscopies were removed for preventative reasons, since some polyps can turn into cancer.

“I would encourage anyone with a first-degree family history like mine to talk to their family doctor about which tests are right for them,” says Paul. “And for everyone else who’s screening age, I would urge them to take the FIT to screen for signs.”

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 this test every two years.

FIT kits are available through family doctors or nurse practitioners. Anyone without a healthcare provider can call Telehealth Ontario’s colon cancer screening line 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 locations.lifelabs.com.

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 Paul 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 hnhbscreenforlife.ca