In Northwestern Ontario, there are over 60 Indigenous communities. For certain types of cancer, rates are increasing among the Indigenous population. Research suggests that culturally appropriate screening and education could help detect cancers early.
There are unique challenges to obtaining equitable cancer screening services. Currently, the most significant barriers to cancer screening for Indigenous people include fragmented care, lack of educational support and culturally appropriate care, as well as intergenerational trauma. In Northwestern Ontario, accessing health services like cancer screening can be difficult for people living in rural and remote Indigenous communities. The need to leave the community and travel for medical appointments is one of the challenges they face.
To overcome some of these barriers, the North West Regional Cancer Program at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) introduced the Screen for Life Coach. The coach is a mobile cancer screening service offering breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening in one convenient location. It travels around the region to bring cancer screening closer home and make these services accessible.
The coach has been collaborating with Indigenous communities in Northwestern Ontario since the inception of the Ontario Breast Screening Program in 1990. Over the years, the partnership has strengthened, with a deepened understanding of the importance of providing culturally appropriate care. The coach now provides cancer screening services to over 45 Indigenous communities—this includes both drive-in and fly-in communities.
During the summer months, the coach travels throughout the region and will park in or as close as possible to Indigenous communities. In the winter months, specific days are arranged for some fly-in communities or individuals living off reserve to visit the coach while it is parked in Thunder Bay.
Regardless of the time of year, our staff work with nursing stations, health centres, and Aboriginal Health Access Centres to recruit and support cancer screening for individuals in these communities.
“The key to success is having a champion in the communities who works closely with us,” explains Bonnie Lindberg, regional Indigenous cancer lead at TBRHSC. “These champions promote cancer screening and the upcoming coach visit, provide education on the importance of routine screening, and support the recruitment of those who are due for cancer screening in their community.
In advance of the coach visit, TBRHSC staff travel to the communities to host Lunch and Learns or attend community events like health fairs or powwows. During these visits, they provide education about cancer screening and chronic disease prevention, and encourage those who are due for cancer screening to make an appointment for when the coach comes to their community.
“We continue working to increase access to cancer screening in our region,” says Vanessa Masters, mobile coach coordinator at TBRHSC. “We are constantly scouting new locations and looking to add communities into our schedule. One important thing we look for is that a site and the road leading into the community can accommodate the size of the coach and has a suitable place for us to park.”
To learn more about the Screen for Life Coach and the communities it visits, please visit tbrhsc.net/screenforlife.