Canada’s health-care system has relied on guidelines for cancer screening that were established five years ago, despite calls for a modern taken on an issue affecting millions.
The problem affects many, including women diagnosed with breast cancer. It leaves them wondering, could the pain of such a disease be avoided if the cancer was detected earlier?
The Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health care recommends mammogram screening for women over the age of 50. It recommended that back in 2018 and has since then stuck with it. The US Preventative Service Task Force, on the other hand, is working to change its recommendation — proposing that all women over the age of 40 should get screened every other year.
“We have started, in early 2023, to reinvestigate and look at the most recent evidence,” said Dr. Ahmed Abou-Soutta, co-chair of the Canadian task force, when asked about plans to lower the recommended age.
He said that there is a lot of evidence that can be used to revisit 2018 guidelines. But he also noted that the task force does not implement any sort of policies. Any recommendations made are then used to guide provinces in their decisions.
Abou-Souta is also an assistant professor of health sciences at the University of Manitoba and the Director of Knowledge Synthesis with the university’s health care innovation centre. In an interview with 680 CJOB, he noted the recommendations don’t prevent women from getting screened.
“I think one of the things that confuse a lot of people when they hear about the recommendations… (is) we don’t actually say ‘don’t screen at 40,’” said Abou-Soutta.
“If a woman’s values and preferences align with screening starting from the age of 40, she should have a conversation with her primary health care practitioner to understand the benefits and potential harms of screening.”
He alluded to what the task force calls shared decision making. In a press release on May 12, they said women between the ages of 40 and 49 should consult with their care providers about wanting to get screened.
The balance between benefits and harms, as written on the task force’s website, is less favourable for this age. It goes on to read that it is an individual choice to undergo screening or not.
Prostate cancer can be beat, advocate says
Ed Johner, spokesperson with the Manitoba Ride for Dad, has always advocated for the early detection of cancer. His own experience battling prostate cancer research has put him up front in the push for fighting cancer earlier.
Speaking mostly about people’s struggles with prostate cancer, he said that early is crucial.
“Having that relationship established with your doctor to get checked on an annual basis is critical,” said Johner.
The task force has additionally recommended that the screening for prostate cancer, with the prostate-specific antigen test, is not recommended. This guideline applies to men who have not been diagnosed with prostate cancer before, those with lower urinary tract symptoms, and those with benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Down in the states, however, the recommendation is that for men between the ages of 55 to 69 the choice is an individual one.
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