March is colorectal awareness month, and health officials in the community are urging residents to be aware of the risks of colon disease.
In Canada, one in 14 men will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime, and one in 15 women. It is the third leading cause of cancer in the country and the second leading cause of cancer death.
Here in Vanderhoof we are lucky to have a developed and active screening process which includes an endoscopy program, headed by Dr. Sean Ebert.
An endoscopy is a specialized exam of the stomach or bowel with a lighted tube called an endoscope.
The screening process starts in the family doctor’s office with the basics of health and nutrition. The risk of developing colorectal cancer is increased by a number of factors that we can change, including a high fat, low fiber diet, a lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and excessive drinking. The end result of the screening process would be a colonoscopy.
As part of the endoscopy program in Vanderhoof, Dr. Ebert also does group appointments, three or four times a month for about 14 people, in the group medical room at the Omineca Medical Clinic.
People are booked into the group appointment after being referred by a local doctor, or one in the surrounding communities of Fraser Lake, Burns Lake or Fort St. James.
“We basically describe what an endoscopy is all about and we go through the process as it happens in the hospital,” said Dr. Ebert.
The group appointment, which will usually last about two hours, also allows for questions and discussion from patients.
“After we do the general information and discussion sessions, I will then talk one on one with patients and we will decide if we need to do an endoscopy or not,” he said.
Dr. Ebert has been running the group appointments for over three years and sees many benefits in them.
“Basically its time, efficiency and access for patients,” he said.
“If I had to see patients one after the other, and had to say the same thing over and over again it would take me literally months…however if you’re referred now, you’ll probably get in within a few weeks,” he added.
He also said that it’s a nicer way to provide care because in a group setting you can talk about a lot of different issues, and patients have the ability to really understand what’s happening.
“So many times in a physicians office its just in and out – this way people are coming into the testing environment with a much better understanding of what’s happening,” he said.
“The other advantage of our group is that we bring staff from the hospital over, and they describe what happens at the hospital and will answer any questions from the patients,” he said.
After the group session, if it is decided that an endoscopy is needed, then a nurse will be ready there to book the date right away, so that a patient can leave the appointment with both the information they need and a date for the procedure.
“What we’ve noticed from these sessions is the satisfaction rate for probably 80 to 90 per cent of the patients is way higher,” said Dr. Ebert.
Whilst Dr. Ebert says the number of incidents of colorectal cancer have been decreasing in the last 10 to 15 years, an aging population coming through the system may well off-set the decrease.
So is colorectal cancer more common in the north? While there is no firm research on the subject, Dr. Ebert says colon cancer is described as one of the northern hemisphere cancers.
“We’re not 100 per cent sure what’s going on there,” said Dr. Ebert.
“As often is the case there’s lots of factors – but there’s no question that it’s prevalent enough to really have to pay attention to,” he said.
While Dr. Ebert has been heading the endoscopy program for the last 12 years, this year he has been training one of the new doctors, Dr. Bret Batchelor. Dr. Batchelor has also been training with specialists in Prince George and is in the process of getting his credentials so that he will be able to take on the work alongside Dr. Ebert.
“This way we’ll be able to offer a much better general service – because if I go away for a couple of weeks at a time then there’s a stall for patients,” said Dr. Ebert.
What’s next? In the coming months Dr. Ebert would like to ramp up the screening process and branch out to Fort St. James and the native population there.
“What I envision is we take our group approach up to Fort St. James so there’s less travel for those patients and more education,” he said.
More information on colorectal cancer can be found at www.colorectal-cancer.ca.