CALGARY -- March is colorectal awareness month and doctors with Alberta Health Services want to remind Albertans about the importance of regular screening.

D’Arcy Duquette credits a simple at-home stool test for saving his life. The 63-year-old was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago.

“My family physician called me and said you got a positive result from your FIT test,” said Duquette. “The way I thought about it was at least it’s caught.”

Duquette has a family history of cancer. He started doing the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) at the age of 52.

“It takes you two minutes to do the test and it takes you 10, 15 minutes to drop it off and it’s life saving,” said Duquette. 

Dr. Huiming Yang, medical director of screening programs with Alberta Health Services, says colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Alberta.

“On average seven people will get diagnosed with colorectal cancer every single day in Alberta. Two people will die from it,” said Dr. Yang.

According to AHS, in 2021 it’s estimated 2,626 Albertans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

“Regular screening can help detect colorectal cancer early before any symptoms appear. When cancer is detected early, most cases can be successfully treated,” said Yang.

In Alberta, the FIT is used to screen for colorectal cancer in people aged 50 to 74 who have a normal risk for getting the disease. AHS said anyone in that age category should screen with FIT every year. 

Yang says during the pandemic, there has been a drop in colorectal cancer screening participation because there was a service disruption and because some are worried about the spread of COVID-19. 

“Colorectal screening services were put on hold for about two months and of course we’re still in pandemic and people still have fears of virus spread and that's why there’s some hesitancy to go back to the family doctor office,” said Yang. 

But he assures patients that health care settings have infection control measures in place to protect patients and staff.

According to AHS, colorectal cancer diagnoses decreased by 12 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before.

Dr. Yang says for this disease, catching the cancer early is critical. 

“Colorectal cancer is preventable and treatable so regular screening can save people’s lives.”

Yang says certain lifestyle choices can also reduce the risk such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and regular physical activity. 

More information on screening is available online.