Latvia has work to do on bowel cancer prevention

The colorectal or bowel cancer screening test is simple and effective, but only a few use this opportunity, Andrejs Pčolkins, chief doctor of the Latvian Oncology Center, and Uldis Veseris, head of the society of patients of bowel cancer, said on Latvian Radio program “How to Live better” on February 13.

In Latvia, as in many parts of the world, colorectal or bowel cancer is the third most common type of oncological disease.

“Every year we encounter 1,100-1,200 new colorectal cancer patients. Unfortunately, it must also be concluded that we often diagnose them in late stages, which leads to a result that is not quite as good as it is in other European countries,” Pčolkins said.

The poor indicators can be blamed on the lack of money, which is an ongoing problem, but more could also be achieved with limited resources, for example by promoting screening coverage, Pčolkins noted. Although residents of Latvia aged 50-74 have access to a state-paid gut cancer prophylactic test every two years, which is easy to carry out at home, few use it.

“If we are talking about Latvia's problem at the national level, first of all, we can start with screening. The coverage of the target screening population has not changed much in the last 10 years and is about 15%. If we are talking about standards that are set in Europe, coverage should be 45%, but preferably above 65%,“ Pčolkins noted.

Addressing people of target age is important to promote bowel cancer screening coverage, but there are currently no personalized invitations to colorectal cancer screening, like it is for breast cancer testing in women.

“The most important thing is that at least half of these people [aged 50 to 74] are approached every year and they would also agree to take this simple test that can save their lives,” Pčolkins said.

Bowel cancer tests in Latvia are up to the patients themselves and the general practitioners. There are a lot of GPs who invite their patients to do screening, but that's not what everyone does, which is why patient engagement is so low as well, Veseris said.

“The main reasons are probably purely psychological for Latvians – I prefer not to know bad news about myself. There is also still a belief in society that cancer is not a treatable disease, so it's best not to find it and not to know it is, and to live in your happy ignorance,“ Veseris said.

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