Do you reside in Eastern Ontario and have no family doctor? My GP retired in 2021 and I have not yet (2.5 years later) been able to find a new family doctor. I came across the services of the Champlain Screening Outreach program recently during my search for medical help.
What is the Champlain Screening Outreach Program?
Through the Ottawa Hospital, the Champlain Screening Outreach offers support to those living in Eastern Ontario who are eligible for OHIP but are currently without a family physician (GP). If you are eligible, a nurse practitioner can book you an appointment to be screened for colorectal, breast, lung, and cervical cancers at provincial screening centers already in place. Screening for these cancers leads to early detection which in turn creates better survival rates.
Screening results are shared through the Ottawa Hospital’s My Chart online program or by phone.
The Champlain Screening Outreach Program does not offer diagnostic workups, blood work, or urgent care services. Walk-in clinics do offer these services, although they often require a long wait.
Once a patient of this program subsequently finds a family doctor, they will no longer be eligible for the screening outreach program. You will also risk being removed from the program if you do not show up for your scheduled appointments.
Screening Procedures and Symptoms
While screening for colorectal, breast, lung, and cervical cancers is very important, it cannot prevent these diseases. What screening can do is detect the cancers before symptoms appear meaning at an early stage. The earlier they are detected, the better the prognosis (chance of survival).
Colorectal/bowel/large intestine Cancer
To clarify, the term colorectal refers to the combination of the colon and rectum. Since the colon is also referred to as the large bowel or large intestine, colon cancer is also known as bowel cancer. The rectum connects the colon to the anus.
Colorectal screening consists of a fecal occult blood (FOB) test which can detect blood generated in either the colon or rectum. Occult means hidden although sometimes the blood is visible in bowel movements. The FOB test cannot however indicate the cause of the blood, just whether it is present or absent. This lab test is packaged in a small kit available through your GP or Champlain Screening Outreach. You perform the simple test in your home by placing a small sample of your poop on a stick, sealing and labeling the package, and mailing the kit back to a lab for testing.
Colorectal or bowel cancer symptoms include unexplained weight loss, change in bowel habits, constant abdominal pain, or visible blood in stools.
Screening for breast cancer starts with a mammogram, which is simply an x-ray of the breast. Clients considered to be high risk (have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer) may also be screened with an MRI which uses radio waves and magnets.
Self-examination is also recommended as a screen for breast cancer. This is something all women should do at home; simply feel your breasts for lumps, changes in size, and even painful areas on a regular basis. Any changes should be reported to a doctor. A nurse or doctor can also perform this type of examination during routine checkups. Although self-examination is important, it is not as effective at screening as regular mammograms.
Screening for lung cancer in eligible clients involves low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), which is a CT scan using a lower dose (than regular CT scans) of radiation. This screening is performed once a year for three consecutive years.
Lung cancer symptoms include shortness of breath, unexplained constant fatigue or weight loss, chronic (won’t go away) coughing or wheezing, or coughing up blood.
Screening for cervical cancer is performed through regular pap smears/tests. The cervix is the anterior (outermost or closest to the front) area of the uterus, at the top of the vagina. The Pap smear, named after its creator George Papanicolaou, is a lab test where cells scraped from a client’s cervix are examined microscopically for changes that may indicate cancer.
While early stages of cervical cancer generally exhibit no symptoms, later stages may result in heavy bleeding, loss of appetite, leg, back, or pelvic pain, fatigue, unexplained bone fractures, and more.
Are You Eligible for Screening?
With our once esteemed Canadian healthcare system currently in a critical state, the Champlain Screening Outreach program is a proactive approach. Created recently (July 2023) this program offers some help to those searching for medical care. Hopefully, other provinces and regions offer or will soon develop similar services.
If you are in the predicament of not having a family physician and would like to continue or begin screening for the cancers above through the Champlain Screening Outreach program, check out the site online or call Sarah Junkin at 833-551-4125.