Today is World Cancer Day. Marked annually on Feb. 4, it is a global day of action against cancer.
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) says it’s “an opportunity to come together to honour and remember everyone affected by cancer.”
The goals of World Cancer Day are to raise awareness, improve education and catalyze personal, collective and government action to prevent cancer, save lives and ensure access to life-saving treatment.
The theme from 2022 to 2024 is Close the Care Gap.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “the COVID-19 pandemic has strained our cancer care system, creating unprecedented backlogs and exposing its gaps and vulnerabilities.”
There are approximately 1.5 million people in Canada today who are living with or beyond cancer, and that number is expected to rise as Canada’s population ages and grows. That’s why the CCS says “addressing these challenges to our cancer care system has never been more important.”
The CCS added that a recent survey showed 25 per cent of patient respondents in Canada – or one in four people – had their cancer care appointments cancelled or postponed in recent months.
“While exhausted health care providers are busy doing their very best to get Canadians the life-saving treatments and screenings they need, the cancer care system remains strained, and that needs to change,” said Dr. Stuart Edmonds, executive vice-president of mission, research and advocacy at the Canadian Cancer Society.
Like all hospitals in Ontario, Newmarket’s Southlake Regional Health Centre has focused in recent months on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barb Steed, executive vice-president, clinical services and regional vice-president, cancer program at Southlake says many scheduled surgeries and medical procedures were delayed; however, urgent cancer surgeries were prioritized in order to prevent delays in treatment.
“Patients are presenting with more advanced cancer staging, we believe partially as a result of reduced cancer screening during the early waves of the pandemic,” she explained. “The cancer screening and prevention program at Southlake launched targeted cancer screening campaigns as part of our recovery plan to encourage routine cancer screening testing.”
Steed says Southlake is routinely meeting standard wait time targets set by Ontario Health - Cancer Care Ontario.
“Overall, the wait times are down for cancer procedures, including surgical, chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “To support clearing the surgical waitlist, Southlake has been able to continually exceed our weekly target for cancer procedures, which is based on pre-pandemic numbers.”
Given the impacts of delayed treatment on cancer patients, Southlake is prioritizing cancer surgeries when determining operating room capacity allocations.
“In 2022, we partnered with the Princess Margaret Cancer Care Network, bringing access to resources from one of the top cancer centres in the world to patients in York Region and Simcoe County,” Steed said.
In addition to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Close the Care Gap theme, it says 2023 is all about taking action to advocate for progress in cancer care. It is encouraging people to create Get Better cards that will be sent to elected officials as a call to action to improve cancer care. The Get Better cards give people an opportunity to speak directly to decision makers about their experiences within Canada’s cancer care system.
“I’ve seen a lot of people suffer from the cost of cancer medication and endless hours of emergency room visits, and that is not OK,” said Harjeet Kaur, a passionate Get Better Campaign advocate, whose life was changed forever when she was diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2019.
“In my case, I had a stem cell transplant, so I needed injections to boost my immune system. Even with a discount and insurance, they were expensive. We need to get better at ensuring everyone can access the drugs they need.”
Dr. Edmonds agrees.
“We must do everything in our power to ensure the needs of people with cancer and their caregivers are a priority as decision makers address the challenges to our health care system.”
2022 statistics from the CCS show that cancer accounted for approximately 85,100 deaths in Canada. It expects the most commonly diagnosed cancers to be lung overall (30,000), breast in females (28,600) and prostate in males (24,600). It also says lung cancer is expected to be the leading cause of cancer death, accounting for 24.3 per cent of all cancer deaths, followed by colorectal (11 per cent), pancreatic (6.7 per cent) and breast cancers (6.5 per cent).
The CCS is encouraging everyone nationwide to fill out a Get Better card online here. People can also join the network of advocates who are committed to preventing cancer and improving the lives of people with cancer. To learn more about advocacy volunteer opportunities, visit the Canadian Cancer Society's website here.
It has this message for those who don’t think their contribution will make a difference.
“Our voices are powerful – and every small action gets us one step closer to changing the future of cancer forever.”