New Brunswick

Colorectal screening program delayed again until the fall

New Brunswick's new colorectal screening program has been delayed again and won't be ready to launch until the fall, officials say.

Plans for at-home test kit announced five years ago

New Brunswick's new colorectal screening program has been delayed again and won't be ready to launch until the fall, officials say.

Plans for an at-home test kit were announced in 2009 and the program was originally expected to be up and running by last fall.

But developing the technology took more time and planning than expected, and that target was bumped back to this month.

Now, computer-related issues have caused a snag, said Dr. Eshwar Kumar, co-CEO of the New Brunswick Cancer Network.

"There's not one IT infrastructure that's applicable to everything that needs to be done, so we're developing a program here," he said.

"So as you're developing it, it takes a little bit of learning and a little bit of changes that need to be made, so I think that was the reason for some of the delays. We've built some time into it, but in spite of that there have been some unexpected delays that I think are being overcome now and everything is back on track."

The provincial government is committed to getting the testing underway this fall, said Kumar.

Guidelines have been established, the test kit has been selected and a lab in Campbellton has been chosen to do the testing, he said.

'Silent killer'

It will take three to five years to see if there is a significant change in the mortality rate of colon cancer, said Kumar.

As it stands, there are about 600 cases of colon cancer each year in New Brunswick. More than 200 of them are fatal.

"It's a silent killer in the sense that it can develop and reach a certain stage before we even know about it," said Kumar. "So it's really important to get people to understand that here's an easy test that can be done at home that will prevent you from developing colon cancer and hopefully avoid you having any complications from late stage colon cancer."

Under the program, patients between the ages of 50 and 74, who face an average risk of colon cancer, will be given the opportunity to do a test at home, which will determine if any further testing is needed.

"With this screening program, we can reduce the incidence of colon cancer and certainly reduce the mortality by picking things up sooner," Kumar said.

The Canadian Cancer Society has been lobbying for such screening, said Rosemary Boyle, the senior manager of prevention in New Brunswick.

"The value of an organized screening program, which is what we're talking about here, is that it is a systematic way of inviting people into the program, of really ensuring that there's a systematic way of examining results and ensuring those results get captured in an appropriate way, and that abnormal results are followed up with," she said.