Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Why you shouldn't put off cancer screenings until you've found a family doctor

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says Nova Scotians without a family doctor shouldn't wait to find one in order to get potentially live-saving screening tests.

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton shares her health hacks with CBC's Information Morning

Mary Jane Hampton says Nova Scotians shouldn't wait until they've found a family doctor to be screened for cancers such as breast cancer. (Christer Waara/CBC)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

A health-care consultant says the estimated 52,000 Nova Scotians without a family doctor shouldn't wait to find one in order to get potentially live-saving cancer screenings. 

Mary Jane Hampton often hears from people who are unsure whether they can book a mammogram, for example, without first getting a referral from a doctor or nurse practitioner.

"People tend to be most worried about not having a family doctor because it means that they won't have access to the day-to-day kind of treatment that they need," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning. "And when your eye is on that ball you miss the screening and prevention strategies that are equally important to staying well."

Her advice? Be your own patient navigator by keeping track of when screenings are required and following up for test results after they're done.

"You need to step up and be your own patient navigator," says health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton. (Robert Short/CBC)

It's important not to put these screenings off, said Hampton, because early detection is key when it comes to certain cancers like breast cancer or colon cancer. Early detection "leads to a much greater likelihood that you're going to walk away from the cancer alive," she said.

Women can start annual breast cancer screenings after the age of 40, even if there is no family history of the cancer or symptoms. It's also recommended that people get colon cancer screening at age 50.

How do you get results?

After an appointment, Hampton said results of the screening will be sent directly to the patient by mail.

"So it doesn't go to any other provider ... and both normal and abnormal test results will go back to the patient," she said. 

It's important, however, to always ask how long it will take to get the results back and to follow up if you don't hear anything, said Hampton.

If the screening shows something, Hampton said there's a way for patients to navigate the next steps, even without a family doctor.

"There will be the patient navigator from the program who will talk to you about what the test result means and lay out the options that you have, which will probably include going for a follow up ... and maybe biopsy. And if you go for the biopsy, then you will be in the hands of the radiologist who will follow up with you from there," she said.

The most important thing, according to Hampton, is not to wait.

"If you don't have a family doctor, then you need to step up and be your own patient navigator," she said.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning