Researchers looking for answers about why so many people in the Northwest Territories aren't going for cancer screening found patients pointed to a lack of access to, and a lack of a long-term relationship with, their health care professionals.

Only about half of eligible people are being checked for breast or cervical cancer and only 20 per cent are being screened for colorectal cancer.

For the past year a research team from the University of Alberta talked to 368 people in two N.W.T. communities, asking questions such as "Have you used the health centre in the community?", "How did you feel?" and "Did you feel listened to?"

Dr. Gita Sharma, who is leading the project, says some of the main reasons they heard for why people aren't getting screening were that there are too few health care professionals in the community, and those that are there don't stay long enough.

There was also the fear of what a cancer diagnosis could mean.

"In the smaller communities, you have to go away from your family and friends and go somewhere like Edmonton or Yellowknife for treatment," she said. "That takes you away from a supportive, loving environment."

Researchers also asked for suggested solutions. In response, people said they want more permanent health care workers and they want things explained in plain language.

This included "using local languages and using languages in a way that was understandable to a regular community person instead of something where the doctor might talk at a level that some of the community members couldn't understand," Sharma said.

Sharma will present the study's findings in Yellowknife at the end of the month.