‘A consequence of the pandemic’: Cancer screening tests down in Simcoe County

It’s not that executive director Aaron Lutes wants to see more cancer patients step through his door.

But he is concerned that the number of people getting an early diagnosis of some forms of cancer has diminished.

“Cancer screening since the start of the pandemic has dropped dramatically, by over 50 per cent on average in the province,” Lutes said. “This is starting to play out in the emergency room and doctors’ offices with devastating cancer diagnosis.”

Cancers not caught early are more advanced with deadlier outcomes, Lutes said.

’s manager of prevention and screening Mark Unwin said the lower statistics throughout the province right now are a result of the government requesting health care providers reduce screening in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

It was done to allow health care staff to respond to the pandemic, he said.

However, now they are playing catch-up to get patients back for their regular cancer screening tests.

For example, a colorectal fecal test is done for people aged 50 to 74 every two years, Unwin said.

In order to get back to regular numbers, 10,000 fecal tests need to be done in Simcoe-Muskoka, which could mean 16 positive tests in that group — using local averages.

Unwin also noted 15,000 mammograms need to be done, with a potential of 71 positive results. And there’s also a backlog of 16,000 pap tests, which could show approximately 53 patients with an abnormal result.

“These are staggering statistics, but I don’t want the message to be that we handled COVID-19 improperly. I think this is just an unfortunate consequence of the pandemic.”

It also unfortunately disproportionately affects women, Unwin said.

The good news is getting a screening test for breast, colorectal or cervical cancer is easy and booking times are available, Unwin said.

“It’s important you contact your family doctor now to get up to date on these tests,” he said. “It’s safe to get this screening done. Some people are still hesitant to interact with the health care system at this time.”

Call the Simcoe Muskoka Cancer Screening Hotline at for more information.