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Many women not receiving cancer follow-up care: study

Less than half of women in Ontario who have abnormal Pap tests are receiving the recommended follow-up care that could save their lives, according to a new women’s health study led by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Arlene Bierman.

Toronto, August 20, 2009

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Less than half of women in Ontario who have abnormal Pap tests are receiving the recommended follow-up care that could save their lives, according to a new women’s health study led by St. Michael’s Hospital researcher Dr. Arlene Bierman.

Cervical screenings with Pap tests detect cell changes early, long before any symptoms appear. Women with abnormal Pap tests are usually at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer and are in the greatest need of follow-up care.

“To improve surveillance and treatment, we need a system that ensures all abnormal Pap tests are followed-up so that Ontario women can receive the best care possible,” said Dr. Bierman, a researcher in the Keenan Research Centre at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital, a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Echo's Ontario Women's Health Council Chair in Women's Health at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto (Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing).

The study also found that screening rates in Ontario for cervical cancers are below provincial targets, and that low-income women were less likely to be screened compared to their higher-income counterparts. While the overall rate of cervical cancer screening in Ontario women was 69 per cent in the study, only 61 per cent of low-income women were screened compared to 75 per cent of high-income women.

“We need to continue to work to reach underscreened populations,” said Dr. George Pasut, vice president, Prevention and Screening, Cancer Care Ontario. “This includes focused approaches to improve awareness of screening and access to screening and follow-up services.”

The findings are detailed in the report titled Cancer — the second to be released this year as part of The Project for an Ontario Women’s Health Evidence-Based Report, or POWER study. The study is the first in Ontario to provide a comprehensive overview of women’s health in relation to gender, income, education, ethnicity and geography. The POWER Study is a partnership between St. Michael’s Hospital and ICES. The POWER Study was funded by Echo: Improving Women’s Health in Ontario, an agency of the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

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