Catching cancer early in Rocky Mountain House

November 5, 2014

New high-tech equipment mean easy access close to home

Story by Heather Marcoux

A Rocky Mountain House woman says new technology at her local health centre helped physicians stop her colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.

“It was caught very early on, so I only required surgery,” says Teresa Smith, 57. “After that, I was given the good news that I don’t need any further treatment for the time being.”

There is strong evidence to show that colorectal cancer screening can reduce colorectal cancer deaths, but it can be difficult for residents in smaller communities to access

RN Hazel Tensen shows patient Teresa Smith the endoscopy system“It was so convenient to be able to have my colonoscopy here in Rocky,” says Smith, who has lived in Rocky Mountain House for the past 30 years. “You have to prep for the test, and you need a friend to drive you. It’s much harder to get screened if someone has to take a whole day off to drive you to Red Deer. Getting it done here is much easier.”

Before the advanced precision endoscopy system was purchased by the Rocky Mountain House Health Care Donations Committee in 2013, physicians at the Rocky Mountain House Health Centre (RMHHC) were able to look into the stomach and lower large bowel, but were not able to screen the entire colon through colonoscopy.

“We know that the current best practice for screening is colonoscopy, as it screens all of the colon,” says Shirley Hope, Site Manager at RMHHC.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Alberta after lung cancer. In 2010, there were 1,902 new cases of colorectal cancer in Alberta and 695 deaths due to the disease. According to AHS, approximately 2,350 cases of colorectal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in Alberta in 2015.

When Dr. Vanessa Berjat, a physician with the credentials to perform colonoscopy testing, moved to the community, the Rocky Mountain House Health Care Donations Committee began fundraising efforts to purchase an advanced precision endoscopy system.

Working with the David Thompson Health Trust, the donations committee initially set a fundraising goal of $150,000 for this project and exceeded that goal by $25,000. The donations made possible the purchase of the Olympus 190 endoscopy system, four colonoscopes and four gastroscopes.

“The state-of-the-art scopes and camera equipment are used in screening and diagnosis of colorectal cancer and other bowel disease,” says Hope. “As well, the gastroscopes are used to view the esophagus and stomach for ulcers and other illnesses.”

The benefit to the community is not lost on Corrie Fortner, Executive Director with the David Thompson Health Trust.

“Rocky Mountain House donors have once again demonstrated the value they place on health care,” says Fortner. “The endoscopy campaign goal was surpassed through generous support from the business and private sector, as well as the time spent by the committee working on the campaign.”

Smith says her experience demonstrates why the equipment is a priceless addition to RMHHC.

Thanks to the early detection, the licensed optician is still working at the Main Street business she has owned for the last 15 years. And she has no plans to slow down.

“I love doing what I do, and I don’t want to stop.”