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Screening saves lives, lowers colorectal cancer rates

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Since the launch of the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program, more than a million people throughout British Columbia have benefited from screening that is helping to drive down colorectal cancer rates.
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Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in Canada and will affect approximately one in 16 men and one in 18 women during their lifetimes. In its early stages, there are often no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. If colon cancer is detected at its earliest stage, the chance of survival is more than 90 per cent.

Thanks to the robust, organized screening program, introduced in 2013, rates of colorectal cancer for age-eligible men dropped from 77.5 per 100,000 people in 2012 to 57.4 per 100,000 people in 2021 (the latest BC Cancer data available). Among age-eligible women during that same time, rates dropped from 56.3 per 100,000 people to 44.9 per 100,000 people.

"Early detection is key in fighting cancer, and that's exactly what the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program does" said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. "We will continue to invest in cancer screening, ensuring early diagnoses and prompt treatment. With our 10-year Cancer Care Action Plan, we are taking action to better prevent, detect and treat the disease."

BC Cancer recommends that people aged 50 to 74 who are at an average risk of colon cancer – which is most people – screened every two years with the FIT. The FIT detects blood in stool that can be a sign of colon cancer or pre-cancerous growths (polyps). The test can be done in the comfort of your own home by following the instructions provided in aa kit.

The BC Cancer Colon Screening Program offers biennial fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) to average-risk individuals and facilitates a follow-up colonoscopy for any abnormal results. BC Cancer provides oversight for organized cancer screenings in B.C. and delivers the Colon Screening Program in partnership with regional health authorities, laboratory service providers, primary care providers and specialists.

Since its launch, the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program has screened more than 1.3 million people. Through 2021, 40,000 people in the province have had high-risk pre-cancerous growths (polyps) removed, the most common growths to develop into colorectal cancer. During the same time, colorectal cancer rates have decreased 26 per cent among men and 20 per cent among women.

"The data is clear – the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program has been instrumental in lowering rates of colorectal cancer," said Dr. Fabio Feldman, executive director for prevention, screening, hereditary cancer program and quality, safety and accreditation, BC Cancer. "Preventing and detecting colorectal cancer at its earliest stage is critical, which is why the screening program has made such a difference."

Under the Colon Screening Program, more than 312,412 people have had colonoscopies following an initial abnormal fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or due to a significant family history of colon cancer or personal history of polyps, with more than 4,000 cases of colorectal cancer detected.

"Our Colon Screening Program has saved lives," said Dr. Jennifer Telford, medical director of the BC Colon Screening Program. "We encourage eligible people in British Columbia to participate in regular screening to prevent colon cancer."

In general, everyone between the ages of 50-74 should get screened regularly for colon cancer. There are two screening tests for colon cancer – the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and colonoscopy.

Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)

  • FIT is recommended every two years for people who do not have a personal history of polyps or a significant family history of colon cancer.‎
  • Talk to your health-care provider and ask for a FIT.
  • If you are eligible for screening, your health-care provider will give you an order form for a free test kit. You can then take the order form, along with your BC Services Card/CareCard, to a laboratory and pick up your FIT kit.
  • Your results will be sent to your health-care provider.
  • If the FIT is abnormal, you will be referred for assessment for colonoscopy.
  • People who do not have a health-care provider can access cancer screening by visiting a walk-in clinic, a nurse practitioner clinic or a virtual primary care provider.
  • An abnormal result does not necessarily mean you have cancer, but it does require follow-up.

Colonoscopy Screening:

  • People younger than 74 with a significant family history should get a colonoscopy every five years.
    • Significant family history means that you have:
      • One first-degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son) with colon cancer diagnosed under the age of 60; or,
      • Two or more first-degree relatives with colon cancer diagnosed at any age.
    • Colonoscopy screening can start at whichever age is youngest between the following:
      • Age 40; or,
      • 10 years younger than the age of diagnosis of your youngest first-degree relative that was diagnosed with colon cancer.
  • People younger than 74 and with a personal history of a pre-cancerous growth (polyps) removed from the colon or rectum should get a colonoscopy every three, five, or ten years, depending on the findings at previous colonoscopies. People who do not have pre-cancerous growths discovered on subsequent colonoscopies may return to screening with FIT.
  • Talk to a health-care provider about your eligibility and getting referred for colonoscopy.
  • People older than 74 who have never screened for colorectal cancer may benefit from having a FIT or colonoscopy.
  • If you have been screening regularly, then you can safely stop screening once you turn 75, given the long time it generally takes for colorectal cancer to develop.
  • For more information, visit

Regardless of age, people should talk to a health-care provider if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in their stool (either bright red, very dark, black or tarry looking);
  • Abdominal pain (frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps);
  • Change in bowel habits;
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer. 
  • There are often no symptoms in the early stages, which is why screening is so important.
  • Screening can detect the early warning signs of colon cancer and save your life.
  • Learn more about the BC Cancer Colon Screening Program by visiting the website.

BC Cancer, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is committed to reducing the incidence of cancer, reducing the mortality from cancer and improving the quality of life of those living with cancer. It provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of British Columbia by working with community partners to deliver a range of oncology services, including prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, research, education, supportive care, rehabilitation and palliative care. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter @BCCancer.

The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) provides specialized health care services and programs to communities across British Columbia, the territories of many distinct First Nations. We are grateful to all the First Nations who have cared for and nurtured this land for all time, including the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səlil̓w̓ətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations on whose unceded and ancestral territory our head office is located. We work in partnership with other B.C. health authorities and the provincial government to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us @PHSAofBC.


Media contact:

Christopher Foulds
Communications officer
Provincial Health Services Authority

PHSA Media line: 778.867.7472

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