With today being International Women’s Day, a local doctor is speaking out against the barriers indigenous women face in northern communities.
One of the major topics is cervical cancer and the higher rates among the indigenous population in BC according to a study by the First Nations Health Authority.
The results are frustrating, to say the least, says Dr. Sheona Mitchell-Foster.
“They found a 92% higher incidence of cervical cancer among indigenous women and for me that’s just completely unacceptable. I think our challenges specifically in the north obviously we do have a vast geography that we have to cover and that’s certainly part of it.”
Mitchell-Foster says this is a frustrating topic because there is currently a vaccine to fight the disease.
Previously, there were no vaccines available to fight any form of cancer.
Culturally safe care is also something that’s lacking in Northern BC when diagnosing women with cervical cancer.
Mitchell-Foster believes indigenous women in the region are growing uncomfortable with the current Pap Smear test, which involves a pelvic exam.
She is currently involved in a pilot project right now that would improve testing for the disease and would eliminate one of the steps.
“It actually takes the pelvic exam out of the initial screening and what we’re doing is offering women the opportunity to self-collect a swab for HPV.”
“It gives women control over when they do the testing so whether it’s done in the clinic or whether they want to do the screening and collect their own swab at home and then send it to get the results and that’s a pretty powerful thing.”
Mitchell-Foster says when we’re talking about cervical cancer, especially the way we currently screen for it in BC, a lot of unease remains as it provides anxiety since it’s a test for cancer as well.