Flemish citizens in the age group 56 to 74 will soon receive a colon cancer test in the mail box every two years, Flemish minister of welfare and public health Jo Vandeurzen CD&V announced yesterday as part of efforts to fight this disease which claims 1 800 lives each year.
The first group of respondents will receive their test in the mail box when the large-scale population survey is rolled out in October, and by 2015 every person in the age group 56 to 74 will have been tested at least once, followed by the next invitation two years later. The project will cost 1.5 million euros in 2013, of which the Flemish government will pay 1 million. The National Sickness and Disability Insurance Institute RIZIV will pay the remaining 500 000 euros.
The test to be conducted is the Fecal Occult Blood Test FOBT which, according to chairman of the Centre for Cancer Detection Patrick Martens “is currently the best test to detect colon cancer”. It detects human blood. Blood in the stool is the first indication of any possible problem. Those who test positively must be examined by the general practitioner. The test comes in the shape of a cylindrical tube with a small brush used to take a sample of the person’s stool and then placed into the tube before it is returned to the laboratory in a self-addressed envelope. Two weeks later the patient and doctor receive the test results.
If the result is positive, the doctor will refer the patient to a specialist for a colonoscopy or colonic probe. It is estimated that 65 000 Flemings in the target age group will deliver a positive test result. The disadvantages of such large-scale screenings is that many people could be unnecessarily alarmed or exposed to unnecessary tests. According to Eric Van Cutsem, a professor in gastroenterology at the University UZ Leuven, “it will ultimately detect the early stages of cancer in numerous cases”. As an estimated 40% of patients diagnosed with colon cancer patients currently do not survive, these tests could be highly beneficial and save many lives in the long term. Colon cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer after breast cancer among women and the third most prevalent after prostate and lung cancer among men. It takes about ten years before a polip or evagination in the wall of the colon develops into a malignant swelling. If the cancer is detected at an early stage, the survival rate can be as high as 95%. The planned tests will be conducted according to year of birth, with all respondents to have completed the first round by 2015. At this stage the success of the examinations, waiting lists and budgets will determine whether Flanders broadens the test base in line with the EU’s recommendation to start at the age 50.
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