Cervical cancer screening expands

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The Alberta Cervical Cancer Screening Program is being expanded to include 680,000 more women, ensuring higher screening rates and better outcomes for those at risk of developing cancer.

The program encourages women to be screened, mails them their Pap test results and reminds them of overdue tests.

Women ages 21 to 69 who live in the north, Edmonton and central zones of the province will soon receive an introductory letter explaining how the program will help them.

Currently, women who live in these areas receive Pap test results from their health care provider.

This will continue, but the program will provide additional assurance for women by sending them a printed copy of their results and recommended next steps.

The program will also provide a safety net for women with abnormal results by sending reminders if they are overdue for follow-up tests. Invitations and reminders will soon be sent to under-screened women.

Program services are currently provided to about 530,000 women in the Calgary and South zones of Alberta Health Services (AHS) and are now expanding to include the rest of the province.

The Alberta Cancer Foundation provided a grant of $800,000 to advance expansion of the program province-wide; ongoing operational funding will come from AHS.

“By expanding this service, we are ensuring cervical cancer will be detected earlier and treatment outcomes will improve,” says Gene Zwozdesky, minister of Alberta Health and Wellness.

“Expanding screening for cervical, colorectal and breast cancers is among the goals outlined in our 5-Year Health Action Plan and supported by Alberta’s stable, five-year funding.”

Dr. Meg McLachlin, chair of the Pan-Canadian Cervical Screening Initiative (developed by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer), says Alberta women “now benefit from one of the most comprehensive programs in the country.”

Studies show screening programs lead to improved prevention and correct follow-up care, which reduces the number of women who develop and/or die from cancer, says Dr. Laura McDougall, medical lead for the Alberta Cervical Cancer Screening Program. Up to 90 per cent of cervical cancer can be prevented if women have regular Pap tests and get follow-up care when needed, she says.

“Primary care providers have been doing an excellent job of supporting women to be screened and followed up,” says Dr. McDougall. “But some women still fall through the cracks and either don’t get screened or don’t get the follow-up care that can prevent cancer. The Alberta Cervical Cancer Screening Program supports women and health care providers to help ensure as many women as possible benefit from cervical cancer screening.”

About 140 women develop cervical cancer each year in Alberta and about 30 die.

“Our donors are pleased to partner with Alberta Health Services in accelerating a program that will save lives,” says Alberta Cancer Foundation CEO Myka Osinchuk. “Screening works. And anything we can do to increase participation in screening programs helps us advance towards our ultimate goal of a cancer-free future.”