The University of Toronto's Dr. Aisha Lofters, an expert in cancer screening, immigrant health and health equity, was recently named provincial primary care lead for Cancer Care Ontario’s cancer screening portfolio.
Lofters is an assistant professor and clinician scientist at the University of Toronto in the department of family and community medicine and an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. She is a family physician with the St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team and scientist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital.
She spoke with the Faculty of Medicine’s Liam Mitchell about her new role – what it entails, its challenges and how her research will inform the new priorities.
What does your new role as provincial primary care lead for Cancer Care Ontario’s cancer screening portfolio entail?
I’m excited to work with Cancer Care Ontario and hope I can provide value to the organization. The role entails providing guidance on the design and implementation of Ontario’s organized cancer screening programs from the primary care perspective, advising on gaps in care and issues of concern to primary care physicians as they relate to cancer screening, and providing strategic leadership to the evolution of the cancer screening program.
What are some of the current challenges associated with the design and implementation of Ontario’s organized cancer screening programs?
Ontario has three well-structured organized cancer screening programs right now for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer, and good rates of screening participation, but participation rates have remained relatively static. Continuing to increase screening participation is an ongoing challenge.
You have conducted research on immigrant health and health equity, particularly when it comes to screening for cervical cancer. How will your previous research experience inform your priorities as provincial primary care lead?
I think my previous research helps me to bring a health equity lens to my work as provincial primary care lead. Some of the gaps in screening participation are due to systemic barriers, and I hope that my research background will help CCO as they continue to strive to address those barriers.
Will you be focusing on province-wide initiatives, or do different regions of the province require different strategies?
Both province-wide and region-specific initiatives are important when it comes to approaching cancer screening. The province has its organized screening programs with clearly developed aspects, but then each region has its unique geography, demographics, etc. that sometimes require adaptations or unique initiatives.
Are there any particular types of cancer that are a priority for screening?
The three organized screening programs are for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer, and that’s based on best evidence. Emerging evidence has now led to a lung cancer screening pilot for people at high risk in parts of the province.