Growing concern in Hamilton area as ‘hundreds’ could have undetected breast cancer

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Published October 12, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Hamilton Health Sciences saw a significant decrease in the number of people completing cancer screening tests over the last year and a half.

There is growing concern among local health care professionals. It’s believed there are around 40,000 individuals in the Hamilton and Niagara areas alone who were due for a mammogram but have not had one. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says that equates to hundreds of undetected cancers. For the province, they say this number is in the thousands.

The Regional Cancer Program at HHS saw a significant decrease in the number of people completing cancer screening tests over the last year and a half. There were 32,000 fewer mammograms completed in the region in 2020 compared to 2019 and this number has continued to grow. Experts believe that this drop in screening has led to an increase in undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, breast cancer cases affecting those in the region.

“Unfortunately, cancer has most likely not decreased since the pandemic began. Even though we are finding and treating less of it right now, I am very concerned that because this pandemic has led to less cancer screening, there are folks out there who have early-stage cancers and pre-cancers that we normally would have found, treated and cured – or even prevented,” says Dr. Meghan Davis, Family Physician and Regional Primary Care Lead for the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant region.

“But it’s not too late – the sooner the better is statistically a good motto when it comes to finding cancer.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Regional Cancer Program is taking the opportunity to emphasize how important it is to book an appointment for a mammogram if you are due or overdue.

“We understand there may be hesitancy to attend appointments during COVID-19, but these screenings and tests are essential,” adds Dr. Davis. “Cancer screening tests help detect cancer early when you are feeling well and before you start to feel symptoms. Cancer screening is important because cancer is easier to treat when it is found early.”

There is a free cancer screening program for breast cancer in Ontario. Screening with a mammogram is usually recommended every two years for individuals who are between 50 and 74 through the Ontario Breast Screening Program.

“Many of my patients rely on these letters to keep their appointments top of mind,” adds Dr. Davis. “Even if you have not received a letter, be sure to keep the lines of communication open with your primary care provider. It’s important to stay on top of your health during COVID-19.”

Residents may also be due for other cancer screening tests offered through the Ontario Cervical Screening and ColonCancerCheck Programs.

More information is available on the Regional Cancer Program website: hnhbscreenforlife.ca.

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