Cancer Care Nova Scotia's colon cancer screening program has been temporarily suspended.
HALIFAX – Cancer Care Nova Scotia is temporarily halting the mailout of colon cancer home screening kits until the sensitivity of the materials used to process the tests can be returned to the requested level.
The monitoring system used to track the kits' performance picked up a recent increase in abnormal test results. The screening test looks for hidden blood in the stool, which may be a sign of cancer. The test manufacturer confirmed the increase is caused by a change in the sensitivity of the materials used by the lab to process the kits.
"Our Colon Cancer Prevention Program was designed to be the best that it can be," said Dr. Bernard Badley, medical director, Colon Cancer Prevention Program. "Its early success can be measured by the fact that more than 1,300 Nova Scotians with pre-cancers or cancer have been identified through the program before they developed any warning symptoms."
When the program was launched four years ago, Cancer Care Nova Scotia set up a comprehensive system to monitor its performance. Through this monitoring, staff recently noticed an increased number of abnormal (positive) screening test results.
"We immediately brought this unexplained increase to the attention of the manufacturers who, conducted a quality review and confirmed the problem is with
the materials they provide to our central testing laboratory to process the kits, and not with the home screening test itself," said Dr. Badley.
Colon cancer develops from certain growths in the colon that may take up to a dozen years to become a cancer. The precancerous polyps have an increasing chance of bleeding as they grow. Because small amounts of blood can normally be found in stool, the home screening test is designed to detect abnormal amounts of blood, while ignoring the tiny amounts lost by people who don't have polyps or cancers.
Recently, the lab testing material from the manufacturer has become more sensitive, meaning people who are losing normal amounts of blood may also receive an abnormal test result.
"Until the supplier has corrected the problem and assured Cancer Care Nova Scotia that their product once again meets our requirements, we will not be distributing any more home screening tests," said Dr. Badley.
"Nova Scotians who have already participated in the program should remain confident that the test is helping to find and prevent cancers. Anyone who has already received a home screening test, but has not yet completed it, can choose to complete it now or hold on to it and complete it when the program resumes."
The Colon Cancer Prevention Program encourages testing every two years, which means a delay in receiving the home screening kit should not be a cause for concern.
People affected by the temporary interruption will receive a letter explaining the delay.
"We don't know for certain how long it will be before a new product is developed, has been tested and we are confident that it meets our needs," said Dr. Badley. "However, based on what we know now, we believe it may take about six months. We will update Nova Scotians if this timeline changes."
Nova Scotians looking for more information about the Colon Cancer Prevention Program can call 1-866-599-2267 or visit www.cancercare.ns.ca/coloncancerprevention . People with concerns or possible symptoms of colon cancer should talk with their family doctor about the most appropriate tests.
Cancer Care Nova Scotia, a program of the Department of Health and Wellness, was created in 1998 to facilitate quality cancer prevention and care for all Nova Scotians. It supports health professionals in providing patients with high quality care.