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Alberta Health Services aims to step up cancer screening and awareness

Total body irradiation is used before stem cell transplants for cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, as illustrated in this photo from an AHS video. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre is the only place this treatment is provided in Alberta (AHS - image credit)
Total body irradiation is used before stem cell transplants for cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, as illustrated in this photo from an AHS video. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre is the only place this treatment is provided in Alberta (AHS - image credit)

The province is boosting efforts to address cancer in Alberta by increasing screening and trying to complete more surgeries.

Alberta is the first province to lower the recommended age for breast cancer screening from 50 to 45. Alberta Health Services (AHS) anticipates 12,000 more mammograms could be performed each year as a result.

"The lowering of the age for breast cancer screening in Alberta is exactly one of the initiatives where we're pivoting," Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, a research scientist at AHS, said.

She also heads up a project researching cancer in adolescents and young adults.

"By detecting these cancers at an earlier stage, we're also reducing the likelihood of a child losing a mother or a family becoming financially unstable."

Earlier this fall, AHS also launched a pilot project to screen for lung cancer using CT scans, which was available to 3,000 patients.

At-home screening kits and mobile mammogram clinics are also part of the push from the provincial health authority.

"Cancer treatment and care remains one of our highest priorities," spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in a statement.

In 2021, 182,000 Albertans were living with cancer. Just over 19,000 were new diagnoses that year, according to government health statistics.

Catch it early

"There's been remarkable breakthroughs in cancer in the last decade or so. Better treatments, new emerging technologies, but it still remains the best way to treat cancer is to catch it early," Wendy Beauchesne, the CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, said.

The foundation is the fundraising partner for all 17 AHS cancer centres. Beauchesne said demand for financial support and other assistance is at an all time high.

"We know Albertans want the very best treatment as close to home as possible."

Cancer surgeries also hit 22,500 in the last fiscal year. AHS said that represents a more than 12-per cent increase above pre-pandemic surgery levels.

Work is also continuing on the $1.4 billion Calgary Cancer Centre. The facility will have 160 inpatient beds, more than 100 chemotherapy chairs and 12 radiation vaults. The centre is slated to open in 2024.