11/05/2012 06:19 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

B.C. colorectal cancer screening program announced

The B.C. government has announced an early screening program for colorectal cancer in which men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 will be asked to give stool samples every two years — regardless of their health background.

B.C. Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid says those who test positive will proceed to a colonoscopy.

"There often are no symptoms until the cancer has spread, and that is why a screening test for people who don't have any symptoms is so powerful," MacDiarmid said Monday.

Colorectal cancer survivor Doug Shirlaw attended MacDiarmid’s announcement, saying he spent four years in treatment surrounded by others with the disease.

"I saw a number of members of those support groups pass away because they were diagnosed late, and were beyond treatment," Shirlaw said.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common fatal cancer among men, and third among women. More than 1,100 people in B.C. will die of the disease this year.

If caught early, it's highly treatable.

MacDiarmid said there is no estimated cost for the program, as its unclear how many people will actually participate and how many of the tests will lead to colonoscopies.