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A collaborative network to develop community-created cervical cancer education and screening strategies for First Nations women in Northwest Ontario

Ingeborg Zehbe

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Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
We have partnered with 10 First Nations communities in Northwest Ontario to invite the women living there for cervical cancer screening. First Nations women are at least twice as likely to develop cervical cancer and to die from it than the mainstream population. This may be due to not getting regularly screened and other reasons such as higher rates of cigarette smoking. However, most women who develop cervical cancer have either never been screened or not regularly. When we talked to the women in the communities we learned about some barriers to attend screening: the invasiveness of the Pap test and not offering the service in the communities. Education about the benefits of regular screening is essential for recruitment. Many of the women we talked to were intrigued to learn that both females and males can contract HPV, the infectious agent that causes cervical cancer and we often heard: "If our men carry that virus and give it to us, then they have to know that". The importance of that statement cannot be overstated because the stigma of a sexually transmitted virus like HPV may be an additional screening barrier. The women also emphasized that their traditional role changed drastically due to colonial legacy, negatively impacting Indigenous health and life quality. During our recent screening trial we felt that we did not reach the women that are never- or underscreened. We will change our approach and provide education based on traditional First Nations activities for men and women and arts-integration. We think that building the screening service into existing health programs in the communities will make screening more accessible. We will also launch a follow-up trial and offer a test that the women can do themselves and that we hope can be offered instead of Paps in the near future. We strongly believe that such changes will increase the screening rates in First Nations women and eventually lower their cervical cancer rates.

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