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Cancer Screening in Ontario

Archived Backgrounder

Cancer Screening in Ontario

Ministry of Health

Ontario is bringing breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening together under one provincial strategy that works with patients and health care providers to make sure that Ontarians receive the most appropriate cancer screening recommended by clinical evidence.

In 2011, the province established the Ontario Cancer Screening Registry. Through this registry, Cancer Care Ontario sends letters and information to Ontarians about cancer screening to help make screening part of their health routine.

From April 2011 to March 2012, more than 4.2 million letters were sent to Ontarians about breast and colorectal cancer screening, either inviting them to be screened, telling them about their screening test results or reminding them to get screened.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for Ontario women. In 2012, it is estimated that 9,100 Ontario women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and that 2,000 will die from the disease.

Sixty-seven per cent of Ontario women aged 50 to 69 were screened for breast cancer in 2009-10, meeting the provincial target. This is an increase of seven per cent from 2003-04. This means that 991,000 women out of 1.5 million eligible women were screened in 2009-10.

Since 1990, the Ontario Breast Screening Program has provided more than 4.6 million screenings to over 1.3 million Ontario women aged 50 or over. In July 2011, the program was expanded to include screening for women aged 30 to 69 at high risk for breast cancer through yearly mammograms and MRIs. This program provides screening across the province at 28 high risk screening centres. 

Research shows that regular screening of women aged 50 to 74 helps detect breast cancer earlier, when there are more treatment options and an improved chance of survival. Regular screening can reduce deaths from breast cancer by 21 per cent.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is located at the opening of the uterus. It is caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) found in both men and women. It is passed from one person to another through intimate sexual contact. In 2012, it is estimated that 550 Ontario women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in and approximately 160 women will die from the disease.

Between 2008 and 2010, 72 per cent of eligible women aged 20 to 69 were screened for cervical cancer in Ontario, meeting the provincial target for that period. This is an increase of 2.4 per cent since 2002-04.

In 2012, Cancer Care Ontario launched new cervical cancer screening guidelines for women. These new guidelines recommend that women aged 21 to 70 should be screened for cervical cancer every three years using a Pap test.

Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable with regular screening, appropriate and timely follow-up of abnormal Pap test results and, recently, HPV immunization. Regular cervical cancer screening with a Pap test can show cell changes that can be treated before they become cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Ontario. It includes both colon cancer of the large intestine and rectal cancer, which occurs in the last six inches of the colon. In 2012, it is estimated that 8,700 Ontario men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and that 3,450 will die from the disease.

Participation in colorectal cancer screening using the take-home Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) has increased from 15 per cent in 2003-04 to 27 per cent in 2009-10.  This means approximately 940,000 Ontarians out of 3.5 million who were eligible for the test were screened in 2009-10.  

In 2006, 38.5 per cent of Ontarians aged 50 to 74 were up-to-date with three forms of colorectal cancer screening - FOBT, flexible sigmoidoscopy and/or colonoscopy. As of 2010, this had increased to just over half of Ontarians aged 50 to 74 who were up-to-date.

From April 2011 to March 2012, more than 1.2 million letters were mailed to Ontarians to invite them to be screened for colorectal cancer, to tell them about their screening test results, to remind them to get screened, or to ask them to screen again.

Men and women aged 50 to 74 years with no family history of colorectal cancer should be screened every two years with a fecal occult blood test. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer in a parent, sibling or child should get screened beginning at age 50, or 10 years earlier than the age of the diagnosis of their family member (whichever comes first) through a colonoscopy.

In the early stages of colorectal cancer there are often no symptoms. Regular screening has been shown to detect the disease before symptoms occur.  A person with colorectal cancer has a 90 per cent chance of being cured if the cancer is caught early enough through screening.

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