Many in Brampton, Mississauga not receiving life-saving early cancer screenings
(National Cancer Institute/Unsplash)

Many in Brampton, Mississauga not receiving life-saving early cancer screenings

Everyday, the trillions of cells in a growing human body continuously divide, multiply and die off. This is a normal process that allows for the constant renewal of human body tissue. 

But when those cells develop abnormally and divide rapidly, they can destroy regular tissue and spread throughout the body. They can form tumours, they can lead to illness, disability and they can result in a person's death. 

This is cancer.

It is a leading cause of death in Ontario, in Canada and the world. It is a vicious disease which one in every two Ontarians can expect to be diagnosed with in their lifetime, according to updated data from Cancer Care Ontario. Without early screenings and access to proper care, including routine check-ups and access to follow-up screenings to abnormal tests, the already aggressive disease can be even more difficult to treat. 

Roughly 1 person out of every 4 is expected to die of cancer in Ontario, yet not all Ontarians have the same access to cancer treatment and screening services as a result of years of underfunding to the province’s healthcare infrastructure. 

Residents in Peel Region have faced inadequate funding for healthcare services for much of the last two decades. Brampton only has one full service hospital—Winnipeg with a similar sized population has six—and Peel’s public health unit remains one of the lowest funded per capita in Ontario. While elected officials at Queen’s Park play politics with Peel’s healthcare funding, including Brampton MPPs voting against investing in a new hospital for the city, it is residents who ultimately pay the price.

A new report from Cancer Care Ontario has found neighbourhoods in Brampton and Mississauga with high levels of material deprivation—where individuals or communities are unable to access and attain their basic material needs due to such factors as unemployment or lack of a high school diploma—and high levels of ethnic concentration, there are lower rates of participation for breast and cervical cancer screenings.

There are also lower follow-up rates after an abnormal cervical and colorectal cancer screening test for those neighbourhoods, higher rates of individuals being overdue for colorectal screenings and for those who are determined eligible, there are lower rates of them completing lung cancer screenings. 

Maps showing many parts of Brampton, Mississauga and the GTA are overdue for crucial cancer screenings, with rates much higher in neighbourhoods with increased material deprivation (shown in darker coloured areas)

(Ontario Health)

There are lower retention rates for the High Risk Ontario Breast Screening Program, which screens women, trans and nonbinary people 30 to 69 years of age with mammography and breast MRIs or screening breast ultrasound if they meet eligibility criteria. 

The report highlights how disparities are experienced in neighbourhoods across the GTA as well as by Indigenous people when it comes to cancer screenings, including First Nations, Inuit, Métis and urban Indigenous communities in Ontario. 

When it comes to breast screening participation, there are neighbourhoods that have  “the highest level of material deprivation with low screening participation throughout the greater Toronto area,” which include Brampton and Mississauga,  which are served by the Mississauga Halton and Central West Regional Cancer Programs.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it impacted access to health services in the province, and many non-urgent health services, including cancer screening, were suspended between March 23 to May 26, 2020, the 2023 Ontario Cancer Screening Performance report details.

Even before the province faced disruptions and lockdowns, its investments did not meet the needs of citizens in Ontario, who for years have dealt with hallway healthcare, a byproduct of the neglected system. As previously reported by The Pointer, the PC government’s spending plan is not expected to meet growing demand or even current needs, with existing issues plaguing the healthcare system expected to continue or worsen because of underfunding and frontline worker shortages. 

The lack of participation in basic screening tests for cancers can have a ripple effect on the healthcare system. Caught early, many of these cancers can be treated quickly and efficiently. The longer they are left to spread untreated, the longer and more complex the treatment. 

Screenings can detect cancer at an earlier stage for people who are still asymptomatic and also gives treatment a better chance of success. 

In order to reduce the morbidity and mortality rates associated with cancer, effective screening and early diagnosis are crucial. 

Neighbourhoods in the GTA with the highest level of material deprivation had low cervical screening participation in the Ontario Cervical Screening Program and the Colorectal Cancer Screening program. Certain neighbourhoods had a higher proportion of people who were overdue for colorectal cancer screening living “in the most materially deprived neighbourhoods in Brampton and Mississauga.”

“In neighbourhoods with the highest proportion of people overdue for screening, more than 42.8 [percent] of eligible people were overdue for colorectal cancer screening,” the report states. 



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