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Health minister visits St. Michael’s to announce cancer screening program

Toronto, October 23, 2012

By Leslie Shepherd

Health Minister Deb Matthews
Health Minister Deb Matthews speaks at a press conference held Oct. 23 at St. Michael's Hospital

Health Minister Deb Matthews came to St. Michael’s Hospital on Oct. 23 to announce that Ontario is integrating screening reminders for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer into one co-ordinated system, improving cancer screening outreach for Ontarians.

The province supports screening for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer through mammograms, Pap tests and a simple take-home test for anyone aged 50 to 74 with no history of colorectal cancer. Starting in early 2013, a co-ordinated system for all three cancers will mail screening reminders to patients as well as follow-up letters.

“Cancer screening is easy and saves lives,” Matthews said at an event at St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team at 80 Bond St.

“Even if you are a healthy adult with no signs of illness, it’s important to be screened for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer, because it can help prevent cancer or detect signs of the disease before you show any symptoms.”

Dr. Bob Howard, president and CEO of St. Michael’s, said it was fitting that the announcement was made at a family health team location because primary care plays such a key role in preventing disease and in early identification.

Dr. Tara Kiran, a family physician at 80 Bond St., highlighted the particular importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer death in Ontario. Screening rates for colorectal cancer are far lower than those for other cancers.

“People don’t like to talk about colorectal cancer,” Dr. Kiran said. “Maybe it’s because people don’t like to talk about their poop.”

She noted that the fecal occult blood test is a simple test that you can do in the privacy of your home.

“Once you turn 50, smear some poop on a card and pop it in the mail. This simple test, done every two years, can catch cancer early – often before it even starts – so that it can be cured.”

“No longer do you have to wait for a discussion about screening to come up during a busy office visit with your doctor,” she said. “Now, once you turn 50, the Ministry of Health proactively sends you a letter in the mail educating you about colorectal cancer and asking you to make an appointment with your primary care provider to discuss screening. And they send doctors like me a list of patients who are due for screening so that we can be more organized in the way we provide care.

“We know that screening for cancer saves lives. But deciding whether to get screened can be a difficult personal decision for some people. I’m really happy that the government is working hard to understand why some people are reluctant to get screened and how we might help them overcome the fears they may have. If you are 50 or older and have never been screened for colorectal cancer, you should see your family doctor or primary care provider to talk about screening.”

Dr. Michael Sherar, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, told the event that time is a key factor is successfully treating all types of cancer.

“We know that the sooner we find cancer, the better the chances are for a full recovery. Screening saves lives and that is why it’s so crucial for people to make screening a priority and find out the right time to screen.”