World Cancer Day marked with new Canadian survey results showing increase in colon cancer screening

More Canadians are getting checked, but many still confused about when to do it

Colonversation logoNew survey results released to mark World Cancer Day 2012 (February 4th) suggest that awareness initiatives to promote colon cancer screening are working. Half (50%) of Canadians age 50 to 74 polled have been screened for colon cancer, showing a Canada-wide increase when compared to similar data captured in 2009. However more than half (53%) of those polled incorrectly believe that people should only get checked after experiencing symptoms. An estimated 22,200 Canadians were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2011 and 8,900 people died of it.

“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada, but it is also highly treatable if detected early through screening,” says the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, federal Minster of Health. “This trend towards improved colon cancer screening is therefore extremely encouraging, and exemplifies why our government funded the implementation of a national cancer strategy through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. More than ever cancer care organizations, health-care providers and other stakeholders from across the country are working together on shared goals for the benefit of more Canadians.”

Commissioned by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and its National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network, the Colon Cancer Screening in Canada survey polled 4,050 Canadians aged 45 to 74 years old on their understanding and attitudes towards getting checked for colon cancer. Conducted by Ipsos Reid, the survey builds on results from a related survey conducted in 2009. The survey is part of the nationwide “Colonversation” campaign, which launched in 2010 and features, an online resource to help all Canadians learn more about the importance of colon cancer screening.

“Screening programs are now in place across the country and great work is being done to encourage Canadians to talk with their family, friends and health care providers about colon cancer and the importance of screening,” says Dr. Heather Bryant, Vice-President, Cancer Control, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. “Most importantly there has been an improvement in screening rates over the last two years. But there is still much to be done. Colon cancer screening still needs to become a regular part of people’s health routine for people age 50 and older.”

Colon Cancer Screening in Canada survey highlights

The percentage of Canadians who say they have been checked for colon cancer has increased

  • Half of Canadians age 50 to 74 are up-to-date with their colon cancer screening tests (FOBT and colonoscopy), which is within the past two years for fecal (stool) tests (FOBT/FIT) and past five years for colonoscopy – 50%, compared to 44% in 2009.

Many Canadians are making the mistake of waiting for symptoms before getting checked

  • 92% of Canadians know cancer screening is a medical test to detect cancer, but more than half (53%) mistakenly think initial screening should happen only after they notice symptoms.
    • Men are more likely than women (58% vs. 49% respectively) to think that screening occurs after symptoms develop.
  • At 50%, self-reported screening rates for colon cancer are lower compared to those for other types of cancer:
    • 77% of women aged 50 to 74 report having had a mammogram in the past two years.

Canadians having “colonversations”

  • The Colon Cancer Screening in Canada survey found that 39% of Canadians aged 50 to 74 have discussed getting tested for colon cancer with a family member, and 30% have had the same discussion with a friend.
  • The survey found more Canadians are discussing colon cancer testing with a doctor – about half of Canadians aged 50 to 74 recall having the conversation with a doctor.
  • When a discussion with a doctor takes place, colon cancer screening was recommended nearly nine times out of ten.

“I had never been screened for colon cancer, and didn’t know anything about it until received a home screening test through Manitoba’s ColonCheck screening program,” says Mr. Douglas Grant of Winnipeg. “I had no symptoms or pain, but the test looked easy and I could do it at home so I thought, why not?”

The results of the home screening test showed hidden blood in the stool samples, so Mr. Grant had the follow up test, the colonoscopy.  “The doctor told me they found a large polyp. If they didn’t find it and remove it, it was the type of polyp that could have turned into cancer. I’m glad I did the test.”

About colon cancer screening

Getting checked, otherwise known as being screened, for colon cancer is an important method of disease prevention and early detection. Clearly, anyone with symptoms or signs of colorectal cancer needs to discuss the appropriate tests with their doctors.  But we now know that screening — a test done when a person has no signs or symptoms of the disease – is also important to prevent deaths from colon cancer. Because colon cancer — also known as colorectal or bowel cancer – often develops from a benign or non-cancerous polyp, it can actually be prevented when these polyps are discovered early and removed.

There are a number of tests that check for colon cancer. Non-invasive stool tests, such as guaiac FOBT and Fecal Immunochemical Tests (FIT), look for blood released by fragile blood vessels in polyps.

“Screening for colorectal cancer works and people appear to know more about the availability of the at-home screening kit,” says Gillian Bromfield, Director, Cancer Control Policy, Canadian Cancer Society and member of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s Screening Advisory Group. “The more Canadians participate in the provincial programs, the better chance we have to find and treat these cancers early, which can save lives. These survey findings are truly encouraging.”

If positive, an internal examination of the colon is recommended (colonscopy). A colonoscopy is done with a thin flexible tube containing a light and a video camera that can be connected to a display monitor. Any polyps or other abnormalities can be biopsied and sent to a laboratory to determine if cancer cells are present.

Encouraging Canadians to have “colonversations” is a national resource for all Canadians to learn more about the importance of colon cancer screening. The site is part of a nationwide awareness program to help Canadians understand the facts about getting checked for colon cancer. It includes detailed information on risk factors, videos and written instructions about the at home colon cancer screening kits, and links to provincial screening information on screening programs. The Colonversation Campaign is an initiative of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network.

Visit for more information about colon cancer screening and to find out more about how to get checked in your province.

About the National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network

Established by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer in 2007, the National Colorectal Cancer Screening Network is building momentum towards a shared approach to colorectal cancer screening across the country. Programs are shared to support improved quality and consistency as each province and territory develops its own screening program, evaluation methods, quality initiatives and outreach. At present, membership includes program staff, provincial and territorial government representatives and representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society, Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Medical Association, Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada and Canadian Association of Gastroenterology.

About the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer is an organization funded by the federal government to accelerate action on cancer control for all Canadians. Bringing together cancer experts, government representatives, patient and survivor groups, including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Action Network to implement the first pan-Canadian cancer control strategy, the vision is to be a driving force to achieve a focused approach that will help prevent cancer, enhance the quality of life of those affected by cancer, lessen the likelihood of dying from cancer, and increase the efficiency of cancer control in Canada. For more information, visit The Partnership is also the driving force behind, an online community linking Canadians to cancer information, services and resources. 

Survey methodology

The Colon Cancer Screening in Canada 2011 survey was conducted from September 8 to 27th, 2011 by Ipsos Reid. The study surveyed 4,050 Canadians aged 45 to 74, with 3,001 interviews conducted by telephone using random digit dialing, and 1,049 recruited via Ipsos Reid’s online panel. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/-1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of Canadian adults 45-74 been polled. The sample was stratified by region, with quotas set by gender and age to achieve a representative sample of Canadians 45 to 74 within each province/territory. The data were weighted to ensure that the sample’s regional and age/sex/education composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to Census data.