A Canadian Movement Needed to Control Cancer

by NationTalk on April 17, 2007802 Views

TORONTO, April 16 – Daffodils, a sign of spring, a sign of hope and also a sober reminder of the impact of cancer on the lives of thousands of Canadians. Almost all of us have seen cancer close up – the diagnosis of a friend, a co-worker; a neighbour or a family member and some have experienced a personal cancer journey. Even with outstanding progress for many types of cancer, it remains the leading cause of early death in Canada and the current projections released this week by the Canadian Cancer Society show the total number of new cancer cases and deaths will continue to rise steadily as the Canadian population grows and ages.

The latest report states an estimated 39 per cent of Canadian females and 44 per cent of males will develop cancer during their lifetimes. An estimated 24 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men will die from cancer, or approximately one out of every four Canadians will die from cancer. Since the first cancer registry began tracking cancer cases in Saskatchewan in 1930, we have learned so much about diagnosing and treating the more than 200 diseases called cancer. More cancer patients are living longer and this trend will continue. We are now at the point that we all need a major “mindshift” to rethink how we prevent, screen, diagnose and treat cancer in a more seamless way. And, as more people live longer with cancer, it challenges all of us from the health care professional, the public policy maker, cancer care agencies, cancer charities, patients, families and all Canadians, to think about this disease differently.

We know that cancer can be influenced by a range of factors. What this means for us is that we can begin to work at preventing cancer by understanding more about how to reduce risks. We can put in place the most effective screening tests to allow us to detect cancers early, and to treat them with the most effective therapies that will improve the quality of life for patients and reduce the likelihood of dying from cancer. For example, screening and more effective treatments are credited with the significant decline in death rates from breast cancer in women. With this, we will need to have in place supports for more people living with cancer.

Provincial and territorial governments, recognizing the growing impact of cancer, have made substantial strides in reorganizing cancer care to provide cancer-related services in a more coordinated fashion. However, access to service and the patient treatment experience continues to vary widely across the country and we read all too often about inequities in care and patient outcomes across Canada. Getting new research out of the lab and into the clinics to the patients still takes too long. It will take the combined forces of all the provinces and territories along with cancer stakeholders to tackle increasing cancer cases.

Cancer organizations, including advocates, patients and families, health care professionals and researchers successfully rallied their forces and worked together over several years to develop a strategy to control cancer. In November, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the creation of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and $260 million over five years to fund the strategy. This strategy is aimed at reducing the expected new cases of cancer through prevention and screening; reducing the severity of the disease and improve the quality of life for those living with cancer; and reducing the likelihood of Canadians dying from cancer. It will call on all Canadians to play a part.

Dr. Simon Sutcliffe (President of the BC Cancer Agency) and I are leading the board of directors to put this strategy into action. The board includes representatives from cancer stakeholder organizations; the provinces and territories; organized cancer agencies/systems, patient, family and survivor groups; Canada’s Aboriginal peoples; and the federal government. Together, our goal is to identify the prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment approaches that work and get that knowledge out across the country’s cancer systems. We want to speed the adaptation of the system, reduce costly duplication of effort across the provinces and territories, and we want to get results that benefit people.

Our action groups, made up of the country’s leading experts, are working on projects ranging from short-term practical solutions to relieve cancer treatment bottlenecks to more complex population based surveillance and forecasting to increase our knowledge.

We know that taking a cross-country approach works. The United Kingdom, a number of European countries and others have implemented national cancer strategies. They’ve focused on implementing holistic programs that start with informing citizens about their role in prevention, all the way through to advancement of leading edge treatments. They are beginning to show results.

We have the world class researchers, surgical and medical experts and innovative leading edge clinical practices here in Canada. Our challenge is to accelerate the transfer of that knowledge and move it into practice across the country to gain ground in our battle to control cancer.

Over the next five years, we will be calling on all Canadians and all the players of the cancer care system to take part in reducing the incidence of new cases of cancer, improving the quality of life for those with cancer, and reducing the number of deaths caused by cancer.

Jeff Lozon was appointed Chair of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer November 24, 2006. He is a former Ontario Deputy Minister of Health and currently President and CEO of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. He can be reached through www.partnershipagainstcancer.ca He will be speaking to the Canadian Club of Toronto on April 25, 2007.

For further information: Lee Allison Howe, (416) 915-9223, (416) 903-5420

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