Ontario Pap test results delayed

As an endometrial cancer survivor, Linda Luyt was anxiously awaiting the results of her annual Pap test to show she was still free of the disease.

It usually takes three to six weeks for a confirmation letter to arrive, she said, noting that her doctor will call her as soon as possible if there are any unusual results.

“I’m waiting for the phone not to ring,” she said from her home in Sudbury, Ont.

But this year marks Luyt’s ninth since cancer surgery, and she’s waited two months since her Pap test in October, and it’s likely to take longer to get the results. When she called the doctor’s office to ask, she was told they didn’t receive the results of the June test until November.

“You think you’ve closed the door on cancer, but every year when I have to go in for a checkup, the door opens — not all the way, but it’s there,” Luyt said. “You’re thinking, ‘Oh my God, I have to ask for this check. What if it comes back?'”

Luyt is one of many people in Ontario caught up in the backlog of Pap results. LifeLabs and Dynacare, large private labs that process millions of tests a year, both acknowledged delays but neither quantified the extent.

A Pap smear can detect precancerous cell changes in the cervix. Luyt is not only worried about herself, but also about those who may find cancer growing in their bodies while they wait for delayed test results.

Both LifeLabs and Dynacare said the backlog dates back to pandemic-era staffing shortages and increased demand.

“As restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic ease and in-person consultations resume, the number of tests ordered for patients continues to surge,” Dynacare spokesman Mark Bernardt said in a written statement.

Likewise, LifeLabs, which processes nearly 700,000 Pap tests a year, says the number of cytotechnologists—specialists in finding precancerous cell changes—is declining worldwide. Only 12 to 14 new cell technologists graduate each year in Canada, the company said.

Michelle Hoad, chief executive officer of the Ontario Association of Medical Laboratory Professionals, said there is a general shortage of laboratory professionals in the province, but it is particularly acute in specialized fields such as cytology.

“During the pandemic, the number of Pap smears actually went down because, as you know, we didn’t have in-person visits and the number of procedures performed went down, so we didn’t really notice a shortage in this group ,”she says.

“But what’s starting to happen now is everybody’s going back to their GP and they’re doing physicals, they’re doing Pap smears, surgeries are ramping up. So all these tests are coming into this bottleneck that’s very specialized. group.”

Many of the solutions to the problem, such as increasing the number of medical lab technician programs and increasing the number of people current programs can accept, take years to bear fruit, Hoad said.

“Across the province’s six (medical laboratory technician) programs, they all have waiting lists,” Hodder said. “So there’s a lot of interest in the industry, there just aren’t enough seats.”

NDP health critic Francis Glinas asked about Lewitt during questioning last week, and Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the government was investing in the health system.

“We’re hiring and training more of the health workforce, whether it’s lab techs, personal support workers, nurses … doctors,” Jones said.

A spokesman for Jones told The Canadian Press that the ministry is “in contact” with the lab and the Ontario Ministry of Health, which oversees the health system, to discuss the turnaround time for Pap tests and is “monitoring” the lab’s return to normal. Plan service levels.

Dynacare said it is working to partially alleviate the backlog by using labs in other provinces and developing best practices for doctors to order tests.

Doctors can flag higher-risk patients so their samples can be processed more quickly, LifeLabs notes.

The Canadian Press report was first published on December 14, 2022.

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