Houston: ‘What is the cost of delayed cancer screenings?’

What is the real effect of the Liberal government’s failure to resume regular medical preventive screening and testing?  That’s just one of the issues that Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston will pursue today with witnesses appearing before the meeting of the Standing Committee on Health.


PC Health critic Karla MacFarlane and other members of the PC Caucus have given voice to the many Nova Scotians who have not been able to access regular mammograms or colorectal testing kits. 


“We know that early detection is crucial in saving lives. Unfortunately, the tests to detect these kinds of cancer have been unavailable for many months,” Houston said. “At the Health Committee today, I am hopeful that Dr. Strang and Deputy Minister Orrell are able to explain the plan to support those many Nova Scotians who rely on these screening and tell us exactly when normal cancer detection practices will resume.”  


Colorectal cancer screening kits were stopped due to the pandemic. Distribution was initially shut down to redeploy staff during the first wave. It is unclear when it may restart. Likewise, while emergency options are still available, preventative, in-hospital mammogram testing as well as mobile testing units are not currently operating.


“I can’t understand why Nova Scotians are able to freely go to restaurants, tattoo parlours and movie theatres, but cannot get a lifesaving mammogram or colorectal cancer test,” MacFarlane said. “The government’s own data proves these tests save the lives of Nova Scotians.”


According to the 2018 Nova Scotia Cancer Incidence and Survival Statistics Update, in the five-year period from 2011 to 2015, over 31,000 Nova Scotians were diagnosed with invasive cancer. The four most common cancer sites (prostate, female breast, lung and colorectal cancer), accounted for more than half of these newly diagnosed cases.


The Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program says that between 2009 and 2017, the Colon Cancer Prevention Program has been able to identify 500 individuals with cancer through the fecal immunochemical stool test. That same program has identified over 4,000 individuals who have had precancerous polyps detected and removed as a result of participation in the program. 


“We could be managing COVID-19 for several years. The human cost of cancelling access to lifesaving tests could add another tragic dimension to the pandemic,” Houston said. “Today, I expect health officials to explain exactly what that cost is.”


Despite a pandemic, the Standing Committee on Health has not met, even virtually, since February 11.