03/08/2016 10:48 EST | Updated 03/09/2017 05:12 EST

We're Still Having The Wrong Conversation About Colon Cancer

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Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer in Canada. It is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early. Yet, half the people diagnosed will find out too late and most people don't even bother to get tested.

Of late, there has been significant media coverage surrounding colon cancer....about which test one should take...?

The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health Care stated that colonoscopies were not a "justified" means of routine screening for colorectal cancer. The new guidelines recommended low-risk patients should be tested using less invasive methods like fecal occult blood tests or sigmoidoscopy every 10 years.

The current dialogue has been around whether or not routine colonoscopies are "necessary" and how these findings compare to U.S. recommendations that say colonoscopies are the gold standard.

Before that, there was a frenzy over the World Health Organization's announcement that processed meats like bacon are carcinogenic. There was media and public outcry over the idea of having to give up hot dogs or sausages.

Once again it's the wrong conversation to be having about colon cancer. While these new guidelines are important (to the medical profession), the message that the public needs to hear is that getting tested can save your life or the life of a loved one.

Colon cancer is 90 per cent treatable, yet it's the second most common cause of death from cancer in men and third in women. Nearly half of those diagnosed find out too late, missing out on the chance for early and more effective treatment.

Too many assume that they don't need to get tested if they don't have any symptoms, but that's far from the truth. Many people diagnosed with colon cancer never had any symptoms or early warning signs. It should be common practice that the gift you give yourself (and your family) when you turn 50 is a colon cancer test.

What we should be talking about is the necessity of regular screenings, whatever kind of test you and your doctor decide is best for you.

We should be talking about whether only people 50 plus should be getting tested. Colon cancer remains a disease primarily associated with an older demographic despite the rise in cases among younger people.

We need more education and awareness about the risks of this disease.

We need a collective discussion on testing that makes sense to Canadians so that people are empowered to act as their own health advocate. As Dr. Robert Smith from the American Cancer Society (ACS) Vice President for Cancer Screening commented, "the best test for colorectal cancer screening is the one that gets done".

No one wants to talk about their colon. But Canadians need to overcome the "ick" factor and discomfort associated with colon cancer testing. If someone told you that you could avoid the devastation of cancer through a simple test wouldn't you take it?

Let's keep the conversation about colon cancer on what really matters: increasing uptake on getting tested. We could dramatically reduce the devastation of this disease and its impacts on the lives of thousands of Canadians each year.

Speak with your doctor, know your risk category, and Get the Test. Finding colon cancer is better than dying from it. That's the conversation we need to have to truly make a difference.

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