“We’re just happy to see that it’s now across the province, and it’s going to be available to all of our residents,” Health Minister Dustin Duncan said.
There are 13 health regions in province. The screening program was first piloted in the Five Hills Health Region, which serves Moose Jaw, in 2009. In January of this year, the Sunrise Health Region became the 12th to access the program.
As a result, the PAPHR, which serves about 80,000 people and is the third-largest regional health authority in the province, is the last to receive the expansion.
When asked why the PAPHR was the last to begin offering the program, Saskatchewan Cancer Agency CEO Scott Livingstone said the decision had more to do with Saskatchewan Cancer Agency than the health region.
“There was nothing to do with it, other than the fact that we were working toward our schedule and educating clinicians,” he said.
“It wasn’t that people didn’t volunteer to participate, but how we rolled it out,” Livingstone continued. “We never rolled it out in more than one region, excluding the small northern regions, at the same time. We did that on purpose because we wanted to focus our resources within the agency.”
The program is meant for early detection of colon cancer. Gord Dobrowolsky, PAPHR board chair, said he found out that the program would be coming to the region a couple of months ago.
“It is such a simple test, and the results from other health regions speak for themselves,” he said. “It can save your life.”
Dobrowolsky said he didn’t believe there was any particular reason for the region to be the last to get the screening program.
“We just take our turn like every other health region with regards to initiatives by the ministry,” he said. “We’re just thankful to be part of it. We’re active participants in it.”
Livingstone said the program is being fully funded by the provincial government, with the annual estimated cost being $3.6 million.
“We’ve also seen the government make significant investments in regional health authorities to support the work,” he said. “That put in place better access to colonoscopy and ensuring they have the right staff on hand to support the program.”
The region, however, will be investing an annual budget of about $265,000 in implementing the program in the health region, according to Dobrowolsky.
The program uses a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), which looks for blood in the stool that is not visible to the naked eye. Only one sample is needed.
“How it works is you’re screened every two years. On odd years, people with an odd year birthday who are between the ages of 50 and 74 would get invited to participate and have the test sent to their home,” Livingstone said. “And on even years, people with even year birthdays between the ages of 50 and 74 are invited.”
Depending on the region, the in-home tests are either mailed or hand-delivered by the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, Livingstone said.
There are no dietary or medication restrictions for participants. Once completed, tests are mailed to the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory for analysis by using a complimentary postage-paid envelope.
“Primary-care providers are directly involved as well and then the regions do all of the heavy lifting because they get the results and then deal with the positives,” Livingstone said.
Regional funding will go toward mailing the test out and training the personnel who make the diagnoses and do the paperwork, according to Dobrowolsky.
More than 132,000 residents have been invited to participate in the screening program since its launch in 2009, with more than 47,000 people using the FIT.
Approximately 730 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in Saskatchewan, with an estimated 280 people dying from the disease in 2012. It is 90 per cent preventable and easily treated when found in early stages.
Livingstone said about 70 per cent of the people whose tests come back as abnormal turn out to have cancer, whether it’s precancerous, benign tumors or polyps that are detected.
“It’s the second-most common cancer in men and women and the second-leading cause of death, and that’s because it’s one of those cancers that affects both men and women,” Livingstone said.
Packages will be mailed out to eligible residents in the region in the coming weeks.
For more information about the screening program, visit: