The Omicron variant’s arrival in November once again halted colorectal screening efforts. The numbers speak for themselves. Over 110,000 people are waiting for a colonoscopy in Quebec, 63% of which exceed the MSSS’ wait time norms. There has also been a 238% increase in the number of primary requisitions for untimely colonoscopies between August 2021 and the 2020 average. There is clearly a need to take action!

While our collective focus remains fixed on the pandemic and COVID-19 is still a priority, we must face a public health emergency that is even more deadly. 

Cancer has been the cause of death for close to twice the number of Quebecers that COVID-19 has claimed. 

Add to that the interruptions in screening and surgeries that have been caused by load shedding, which will have impacts on the lives of thousands of people in the coming years.   

Early detection of colon cancer increases five-year survival rates to over 90%. Prevention efforts since the 2000s have decreased the number of cancer cases throughout the country. Sadly, 25,000 Canadians will receive a colorectal cancer diagnosis this year, 6,400 of which in Quebec. Among the county’s 9,600 anticipated deaths related to this disease, 2,600 of them will be Quebecers.    

Colon cancer screening remains the best method for preventing the illness. It can detect cancer at an early stage, before signs and symptoms of the disease appear. It is simple to do thanks to a non-invasive test called RSOSi which is done at home. For individuals whose test results are positive, a colonoscopy can identify and remove precancerous polyps, thus preventing cancer. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, there were 160,000 fewer RSOSi screening tests in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.   

The consequences are immense; fewer screening tests, fewer colonoscopies performed, more cases of advanced cancer to be expected, more deaths to be anticipated and more pressure on the health care system for years to come, including the need for expensive pharmaceutical drugs. 

And yet there are proven solutions to protect Quebecers’ health when it comes to colorectal cancer. 

Indeed, Quebec is the only Canadian province that does not have a structured colorectal cancer screening program for people aged 50 to 74. 

Like the breast cancer screening program, such a program could promote the detection of colorectal cancer through mass mailing letters inviting readers to acquire the screening test and thereby increase treatment success rates.  

There is no excuse to further delay the implementation of the Quebec Colorectal Cancer Screening Program (QCCSP).

Since 2007, the Government of Quebec has been promising to launch a colorectal cancer program. Promises have been made by one Minister of Health after the other, but still, no program has been deployed. 

The pandemic has shown us how Quebec can quickly implement a COVID-19 screening program for all, as well as an effective vaccination program. Let’s capitalize on the lessons learned during the pandemic. Let’s take action as swiftly as possible so that we can prevent the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Quebec. 

While the government has recently earmarked additional funding for colonoscopies, the QCCSP remains the central element in the prevention of colorectal cancer. It must be supported by investments in research and primary prevention programs which include healthy living practices, increasing endoscopic capabilities, as well as other cancer care services in order to mitigate the human and financial burden of this disease. 

Consequently, we are asking the Minister of Health and Social Services, Christian Dubé, to deploy the QCCSP without delay, and to increase the dedicated resources, including research funding, so that the health care network is able to increase its capabilities related to colorectal cancer. 

Barry D. Stein, President and Director General of Colorectal Cancer Canada

Dr. Martin Champagne, President of the Association of Quebec Hematologists and Oncologists

Marco Décelles, Director General, Quebec Cancer Foundation

Diego Mena, Vice-President Strategic Mission Initiatives and Engagement, Canadian Cancer Society

Manon Pepin, President and Chief Executive Officer Cancer Research Society