Breach, Compliance Management, Data Security, Privacy

Thousands of Ontario cancer test results may be lost in the mail

Records containing the personal health information of thousands of Ontario citizens who participated in the province's colon cancer screening program may have gone missing.

How many potential victims? Nearly 12,000.

What type of personal information? Names, birth dates, genders, health card numbers, and colon cancer screening information and results.

What happened? Cancer Care Ontario, the provincial agency charged with improving cancer services, cannot confirm whether 15 reports containing the personal health information of 6,490 Ontarians were successfully delivered to their intended recipients. The agency is also looking into the delivery status of an additional 11 reports containing 5,440 records.

The reports, which contain information from Ontario residents ages 50 to 75 in the ColonCancerCheck program, an initiative to screen people for colon cancer, were mailed to family doctors in February and March.

The agency used Canada Post's Xpresspost courier service to mail the reports. Canada Post mail carriers are supposed to hand over the packages only after receiving a doctor's signature and return them to the agency if a signature is not obtained.

Some of the reports were, however, delivered without a signature confirmation.

Details: Ontario's privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, launched an investigation in late June and instructed the agency to visit doctors' offices to look for the reports.

Quote: “Medical test results rank among the most sensitive personal information about an individual,” Cavoukian said. “I am astounded that such a loss could take place. The first step is to minimize any harm by locating as many of these reports as possible. As part of our investigation, we will be looking at steps that can be taken to ensure that this type of breach doesn't happen again.”

What was the response? An investigation was launched to determine the scope of the incident. The agency is notifying the appropriate primary care physicians, patients and the public over the next several weeks.

Source:, CBC News, “Ontario cancer tests may be lost in mail,” July 26, 2011.

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