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More than a third of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented through screening

Cancer association AECC volunteers raised awareness among members of the public in Malaga this week.
Cancer association AECC volunteers raised awareness among members of the public in Malaga this week. / Francis Silva
  • Fewer than 23 per cent of people are taking advantage of the test for blood hidden in faeces which is available in Andalucía to detect the illness early

Colon cancer took the lives of 422 people in Malaga province last year, which is a rate of 26 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants according to the Observatory of the Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC).

Of those deaths, 136 were people aged between 50 and 69 (a rate of 33 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), which is the highest age range for colorectal cancer. More than a third of these deaths could have been prevented with suitable screening for this type of tumour, says the director of the Oncology Unit of the public hospitals in Malaga and professor of Oncology at Malaga university, Emilio Alba.

To improve the early detection of colon cancer, a high percentage of the population needs to take a test for hidden blood in faeces; these are available in all health centres in Malaga and have been designed for people aged between 50 and 69.

Although it has been shown that screening is effective for this type of tumour (which is the most common in Spain when the figures for men and women are combined), Andalucía has one of the lowest screening rates in Spain at less than 22.74 per cent, according to the AECC.

Prevention Day

These figures were made public in a statement this week to mark World Colon Cancer Prevention Day, which is on 31 March. The AECC's aim is to make people between the ages of 50 and 69 (the age group with the highest risk) aware of how easy it is to take the preventive test, and to advise them that they will be receiving a letter from the Andalusian Health Service inviting them to do so.

Andalucía has taken up the challenge of reaching a 100 per cent take-up rate by 2021.

"Colon cancer develops gradually. First a polyp appears, then it grows and becomes a tumour and finally there is metastasis. If the polyp is found and removed on time, the cancer is prevented," said Dr Alba. He stresses the importance of screening for this type of cancer, as the test is one of the most efficient in existence. "Screening for colorectal cancer is the most important development in public health in many years," he said.

Last year, 1,186 cases of colon cancer were diagnosed in Malaga province (26 cases per 100,000 inhabitants) of which 492 tumours were in patients aged between 50 and 69. Malaga is the second province in Andalucía in terms of incidence and mortality of this type of tumour among people in that age group.

The AECC stresses the importance of screening as a preventive measure. Colorectal cancer is the most common malignant tumour in Spain, with 37,172 new patients diagnosed in 2018. On the positive side, 90 per cent of those whose tumours are detected through the test are cured.

As well as preventing suffering and saving lives, this type of screening saves money. The test for blood hidden in faeces is simple and cheap. It costs two euros, and if it is positive, which is the case in six or seven per cent of people tested, a colonoscopy is carried out which costs the authorities about 180 euros, according to the AECC.

The average cost of colorectal cancer in Spain is more than 27,000 euros, considerably more if the latest biological therapies and neoadjuvant and surgical treatments are used.