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Small northern Ont. town loses access to mobile cancer screening

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A northern Ont. city councillor says she fears many women will go without the proper health care after town loses access to mobile cancer screening.

"In late February, I was informed that the Screen for Life coach was no longer coming to Wawa," Wawa town Counc. Cathy Cannon told CTVNewsNorthernOntario.ca in an online interview.

Undated photo of Screen For Life mobile cancer screening bus operated by Thunder Bay hospital and serving northwestern Ontario. (Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre)

"I had phoned and asked why we weren’t on the list this year and I talked to one of the people in Thunder Bay and he said we were no longer on the list but not only us, White River, Dubreuilville, Hornepayne and Chapleau were no longer on the list, they only go as far as Marathon."

The bus is based out of the Thunder Bay hospital 478 kilometres away and offers mammograms, pap tests and tests for colon cancer.

Cannon said it usually comes to her community of just more than 2,700 people twice a year in the summer.

"When you look at the numbers, we had over 200 people access that bus just last year alone, just in Wawa, so people are using the bus," she said.

"And to find out we weren’t given any warning, we weren’t given anything that they weren’t coming. So it’s like OK, what do we do from here?"

Cannon said she had a meeting with the hospital's CEO who said they could set up pop-up tests for cervical and colon cancer screenings, but mammograms are harder to do that way.

"We don’t have the machinery for it," she said she was told.

Without any alternatives, it would force the town residents to make the 278-kilometre trip to Sault Ste. Marie and be treated at the Group Health Centre, which is already facing its own patient issues.

From Wawa, the drive to the Sault is two-and-a-half hours each way and more than four hours each way by bus.

"My worry is that women aren’t going to do it, they’re not going to start travelling to go for a mammogram," she said.

"To me,, it’s like the north is forgotten. They’ve set up clinics all along the North Shore, but nothing in this area, so we’re again left out in the cold."

Cannon said the older generation is not going to want to make the drive, particularly down Highway 17, during the winter.

The Town of Marathon, while closer, is still a two-hour drive.

Finding an alternative

At a town council meeting Tuesday night, Cannon laid out a passionate plea for support from her colleagues to approach the Ontario Ministry of Health for other alternatives to the cancer screening service they are losing.

Her resolution received unanimous support.

"I know that Thunder Bay is not going to be able to come back here because the age for screening has been lowered to 40," Cannon said.

"They have picked up more patients in their own area and I’ve been told they only did this as a courtesy because we had no one covering this area. So, they’re not going to be able to do it because they’re busy on their own."

The town councillor said she’s been in touch with Algoma – Manitoulin MPP Mike Mantha’s office and she’s hopeful Queen’s Park will take the town's concerns seriously.

"Without the screening, more women are … I think the cancer rate will go up," she said.

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