Healthbeat – Engaging First Nations Women in Cervical Cancer Screening


NNL HealthbeatTHUNDER BAY – Healthbeat – A cancer prevention research project involving Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) faculty members in partnership with 10 First Nation communities in Northwestern Ontario has garnered attention from the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario. The team’s project, titled “Engaging First Nations Women in Cervical Cancer Screening: Assessing Factors Related to Screening and Uptake of Self-Sampling,” has resulted in the team being chosen as the 2011 recipient of the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario Innovation Award. “Our team has been able to develop a respectful cancer prevention research study with our collaborating First Nations partners. It is very exciting that this process is recognized along with the science in this project at a provincial level,” says NOSM faculty member Dr. Marion Maar, a Medical Anthropologist and co-Principal Investigator on the project.

Dr. Ingeborg Zehbe (Lead Investigator and Scientist at Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute) explains that cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Canadian women between 20 and 49 years of age. It is always associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) and is preventable with regular screenings. Many First Nations women, however, are not regularly screened. This may contribute to this population having a significantly higher prevalence of cervical cancer compared to other Canadian women.

Specifically, the project aims to raise awareness of cervical cancer, its association with HPV, and its prevention through screening by developing culturally appropriate campaigns and educational resources. It will also introduce convenient self-sampling and sensitive HPV testing as alternative for (Pap) Papanicolaou screening.

Amy Nahwegahbow, the study’s coordinator and member of the Whitefish River First Nation, has a solid background in First Nations health issues. “One of the outcomes of the research will be the development of culturally safe methods and holistic approaches to screening, which translates into better screening uptake and better prognosis for First Nations women at risk of cervical cancer,” says Nahwegahbow.

Potential Outcomes for Aboriginal Populations:

The study is expected to last three years, and has received an operating grant worth $594,505 from the Canadian Institute of Health Research. Along with Drs. Zehbe and Maar, the investigators include Drs. Alberto Severini (University of Manitoba), Julian Little (University of Ottawa), Gina Ogilvie (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control), Ann Burchell (Ontario HIV Treatment Network), Nicholas Escott (Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre) and Helle Moeller (Lakehead University).

About 1000 First Nations women between 25 and 70 years of age from Northwest Ontario will be invited to participate. A key feature of this study has been an emphasis on developing trusting and genuine relationships with First Nations communities helping to reduce the burden of cervical cancer within these communities. First Nations community members, and in particular women, will be engaged in all decision making processes. This work will assist in the implementation of an organized cervical cancer-screening program that is culturally safe for the needs of First Nations women. It will further guide the design of prophylactic vaccines that are precisely adapted to the truly prevailing HPV types in First Nations women as suggested in other related studies.

“These researchers are advancing new and innovative programs aimed at reducing the risk of cancer as well as improving care for cancer patients,” says Dr. Roger Strasser, Dean of NOSM. “The award recognizes best practices for improving the quality and value of health-care programs across Ontario. We are happy that leaders in our region are being recognized for their valuable contributions to improving the health of the people and communities in Northern Ontario.”

The Northern Ontario School of Medicine is committed to the education of high quality physicians and health professionals, and to international recognition as a leader in distributed, learning-centered, community-engaged education and research.

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