Closing the gap in cancer screening for women

October 2010   Comments

Most provinces and territories have implemented screening programs for breast, cervical and, increasingly, colorectal cancer; however, women in underserved or marginalized communities, such as recent immigrant, rural, older, low-income and aboriginal populations, can face a variety of barriers to accessing screening. A new publication aims to help address this issue. Engaging Seldom or Never Screened Women in Cancer Screening: A Compendium of Pan-Canadian Best and Promising Practices provides concrete examples of innovative community-based programs that have proven to be effective in increasing awareness and screening rates. 

The compendium includes detailed descriptions — including objectives, steps to implementation, challenges and lessons learned — of 61 promising practices from across the country. The programs use a variety of tactics to reach their target audiences, not all of them traditional. The Be a Breast Friend Salon Project, for example, recruited hairstylists to discuss breast health and the importance of regular screening with their older clients. The results are impressive: 96 per cent of women who visited participating salons were interested in having their stylists talk about breast screening and thought salons were an appropriate place to do so, and 94 per cent planned to tell other women about the importance of mammography.

The publication also provides a comprehensive literature review and a description of the steps to working toward best practices, with specific suggestions on topics such as relationship building, community engagement, program design and evaluation, managing human resources and sustainability planning. It was produced by a working group from the South Riverdale Community Health Centre, the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, and Toronto Public Health, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. These organizations hope that by sharing information and facilitating collaboration, agencies will be able to make more efficient use of their limited resources by adapting proven programs and, in so doing, contribute to increased cancer screening participation and eventual reductions in morbidity and mortality associated with breast, cervical and colorectal cancers.

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