While the incidence of colorectal cancer (CRC) has actually been stabilizing or decreasing in Canada, what many people do not know is that this disease, which is the second most common cause of cancer death in Canada is rising in people under the age of 50.

In fact, Canadians born after 1980 are 2 to 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with CRC before the age of 50 than previous generations at the same age and scientists are unsure as to why.

The paradox is that since the introduction of the publicly funded colorectal cancer screening programs across Canada, a significant decline in colorectal cancer rates has occurred for those who are eligible for screening: people 50 to 75 years of age with average risk. Screening with a net cast this wide works, as colon cancer is 90% treatable when caught early.

For those under 50, however, only those with risk factors or who display symptoms are offered screening. Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner about screening if this is you.

Screening Step 1: The At-Home Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

Participation in screening programs ranges from 20% – 51% across Canada: over half of eligible Canadians are missing out on a quick, painless, at-home test that could save their lives.

This test, the fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, is a non-invasive, simple screening tool that looks for hidden blood in your poop, which is typically offered when people don’t have major risk factors.

All provinces and territories offer this screening every 12 to 30 months at no charge – but only to people 50 to 75 years of age. You do not have to change your diet or stop taking medication to do the test.

To get your free FIT, talk with your family doctor or nurse practitioner. If you do not have a doctor or nurse practitioner, you can get a FIT by contacting your provincial health authority.

Step 2 (If required): Colonoscopy

When people are at high risk, or are displaying symptoms of colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy is typically offered, whether an adult patient is under or over 50.

Two types of colonoscopies are available in Canada. The one most people are familiar with is the procedure in which the doctor examines your colon via a scope while you are anesthetized.

The other type is the virtual colonoscopy, which is much less invasive, safer, quicker, less expensive and done in an MRI or CT machine.

Both have advantages and disadvantages; talk with your doctor to determine which is right for you. Be aware however that virtual colonoscopies are not available in all clinics and are often not covered by provincial medicare.

It’s critical to know however that waiting any longer than 6 months for a colonoscopy after a positive FIT has a significant impact on clinical outcomes. Currently, the wait time for non-urgent, publicly offered colonoscopies in Canada is 33 to 160 days, depending on the province.

Colonoscopy Cost

The wait list in your province to get the procedure may be long or perhaps you prefer a virtual colonoscopy; therefore you may want to consider the option of paying out of pocket for the procedure.

It is possible to book colonoscopies in private clinics in Canada such as the Endovision Clinic in Montreal, usually without a referral from your doctor. Endovision claims no wait times, and same day results.

As of 2021, out-of-pocket colonoscopies are priced anywhere from $1500 to $3,000 and If polyps or other tissues need to be removed, additional fees may be charged. Confirm with the clinic as your individual needs may affect the pricing. Virtual colonoscopies are somewhat cheaper, coming in at about $700 to $1000 depending on the clinic.

Private insurance may cover colonoscopies. Check with your insurance provider to be sure.

What’s important to realize is that you have options. Regular and timely screening for colorectal cancer – whether through public screening initiatives or through a private clinic on your timeline – is something you will not regret.

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