Keep your Colon Rollin’ with new colon cancer screening test

Rob Birnie

`Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’

“That old saying still holds true,” says Cayuga resident Rob Birnie, owner of the Hamilton-based plumbing company Birnie and Sons. “I would encourage people to keep their colon rollin’ by taking the province’s new colon cancer screening test.”

Rob along with four of his colleagues are partnering with the Regional Cancer Program to promote a new at-home test that screens for signs of colorectal cancer, commonly called colon or bowel cancer.  Joining him are company directors Bob and Roy Birnie, plumber Paul Spelman and operations manager Gerry O’Shaughnessy.

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.

As champions for FIT, Rob and his colleagues 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. Once colon cancer spreads to other parts of the body it’s much more difficult to treat. 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.

Rob, 40, is still too young for this screening program, but he plans take part once he turns 50. “It’s very important to be vigilant,” he says, adding that several family members have been diagnosed with various cancers over the years and are alive today thanks to early detection and intervention.

Those relatives include an aunt who survived colon cancer. She was diagnosed after feeling unwell and seeing her doctor. Treatment included having part of her colon removed. “She likes to tell people that she would rather have a semi colon than a full stop,” jokes Rob.

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 Rob 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