A project aimed at reducing what one doctor says is an alarming trend when it comes to cancer rates on northeastern Ontario First Nations is taking root at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.

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Dr. Amanda Hey is helping spearhead a new project to bring cancer screening to First Nations communities. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Dr. Amanda Hey is with the Lending a Hand to Take a Stand project with First Nations on Manitoulin Island, the north shore of Lake Huron, and the James Bay Coast. She said the program is meant to encourage people living on First Nations to get screened for breast, cervix, and colorectal cancer — earlier and more often.

She noted First Nations cancer rates "are increasing, whereas the Ontario rates are actually plateauing. We want to ensure what can be done is actually there and available and offered to First Nations people."

Hey, who is the northeast primary cancer lead with Health Sciences North in Sudbury, said the project is working closely with health clinics on First Nations to provide them the support to set up their own screening clinics.

Awareness and accessibility

This will help overcome the challenge that cancer screening isn't always accessible on First Nations, said Pamela Williamson, executive director at the Noojmowin Teg Health Centre in Little Current.

"Our nurse practitioners will be working with the community staff to develop these clinics," she said. "It is readily available and it is in their community. So for us, this is one of the benefits."

Williamson said the health centre is planning a "pap blitz" in the next few months to screen women for cervical cancer.

Hey said the project will also attempt to overcome the issues of awareness and accessibility that surround breast cancer screening among First Nations women.

"Even though the incidents of breast cancer in First Nations women aren't higher than Ontario rates, when they're diagnosed, they're diagnosed at a later stage and therefore that will affect their outcomes," she said.

Hey said increasing participation in breast screening is the first step in reversing that trend.