The Regional Ministry of Health and Consumer Affairs will this year boost the colon cancer screening campaign to reach 90 per cent of the target population and achieve the objectives set out in the national strategy to reach all men and women between the ages of 50 and 69 in the Balearic Islands by 2024. Around 260,300 people will benefit from this measure.
This was announced today by the councillor Patricia Gómez during a joint press conference with the regional clinical coordinator of the Early Detection of Colon and Rectal Cancer Programme of the Balearic Islands and also president of the Spanish Association Against Cancer in the archipelago, José Reyes. The event was attended by the Director-General of Public Health, Maria Antònia Font, and the coordinator of the Cancer Strategy, Carmen Sánchez-Contador.
As of 31 March, the programme, which until now has been carried out at the Hospital Comarcal de Inca and the Hospital Can Misses and covered 23% of the target population, will be fully implemented in the Son Espases, Son Llàtzer and Manacor hospitals, which will allow it to reach more than 90% of the target population. In the case of Menorca, the programme is ready to begin and will do so once the staffing levels have been determined, for which the necessary steps are already being taken.
On 31 March, coinciding with World Colon Cancer Day, letters will be sent out to invite the target population to take part in the programme, which is carried out in collaboration with pharmacies, which are responsible for delivering the sample collectors to citizens who present the document.
Councillor Gómez emphasised that the extension of the Programme has been the result of an enormous prior coordination effort with the different care areas involved in the development of the Programme, and a series of investments in different care areas, both in material and personnel, in order to provide the necessary means to support the additional workload that the development of the Programme will entail.
Specifically, the Directorate-General for Public Health and Participation, which carries out all the planning and monitoring of the Programme, the health centres, which collect the samples from the patients, and the hospitals, which are responsible for analysing the samples and carrying out the additional diagnostic tests that are considered appropriate, have worked together.
Gómez stated that the development of this programme is a priority, given that prevention is one of the pillars of the health system and, in the case of colorectal cancer, it is even more important, given that this is the most common cancer in the Balearic Islands, with around 850 cases diagnosed each year and between 300 and 400 people dying from it.
Also on 31 March, the Regional Ministry will hold an interdisciplinary working day with the participation of professionals from primary care, hospitals and Public Health in order to publicise the strategy and address aspects such as the role of primary care professionals as informers and attractors of participants; the incorporation of human and technological resources, and the organisation of the circuits and the involvement of teams from the various levels of care.
In terms of infrastructures, it is worth remembering that in order to promote the programme – which until now was essentially in place at the Hospital Comarcal de Inca – and to extend it to all health sectors, this year the Health Service has invested 882,854 euros in the contract for the supply and maintenance for five years of digestive endoscopy equipment consisting of endoscopy towers, high-definition video colonoscopes and electrosurgical units. These have already been installed in hospitals on the islands.
Colon cancer can be prevented
Dr Reyes pointed out that colon cancer is a major public health problem, but added that it is preventable and indicated that in addition to primary prevention measures, such as increasing physical exercise, improving diet and avoiding being overweight, early diagnosis programmes for colon cancer have been in place in Spain for years.
These programmes aim to detect and remove colon polyps (benign lesions, but with the potential to progress to cancer). A quantitative immunological faecal occult blood test is proposed for the medium-risk population (people aged 50-69 years, with no family or personal history of colon cancer).
In the case of those who test positive, they are offered a colonoscopy. It should be noted that the programme is carried out in completely asymptomatic individuals.
This system allows the detection and elimination of colon polyps and the detection of 70% of cancers in their early stages, making treatment much easier and the prognosis much more favourable.
In areas where population-based colon cancer screening programmes have been implemented, Reyes said, a decrease in the incidence and mortality from colon cancer has been detected 7 years after the start of the programme.