Wait times for cancer radiation therapy down

TheStar.com – News/healthzone.ca
May 27, 2010.   Megan Ogilvie, HEALTH REPORTER

Wait times for cancer radiation therapy have reached an acceptable level in Ontario, with the majority of patients starting the treatment within the 28-day benchmark, according to the province’s annual cancer report card.

The 2010 Cancer System Quality Index report, released Thursday, found improvements in radiation wait times occurred even with a 10 per cent increase in the number of patients receiving that treatment.

The report recommends the province now focus its attention on increasing the utilization of radiation therapy to meet the provincial target of 48 per cent. Right now the utilization rate is at 36 per cent.

Dr. Robert Bell, chair of the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario, the agency which issues the annual report, said in a release that the gains seen in wait times for radiation treatment show how a comprehensive strategy, collaboration and long-term planning can impact cancer treatment in Ontario.

“With the increasing demands being placed on the system we need to apply these approaches to improving quality and access for cancer surgery and chemotherapy,” Bell said in the release.

Increasing demand for other cancer therapies continues to strain the health system. The report found wait times for cancer surgery did not change in the past year, with 76 per cent of surgeries meeting target wait times.

Wait times for chemotherapy treatment also remained the same over the past year.

For the first time, the report – to be released in full Thursday at 10 a.m. – will compare Ontario to international benchmarks.

“The Index is a snapshot of how the cancer system is performing and highlights successes and opportunities for improvement,” Terrence Sullivan, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, said in a release.

The report also found:

The number of patients seen by a radiation specialist within 14 days of referral increased from 57 per cent in 2007 to 68 per cent in 2009.

Wait times for more common cancer surgeries, such as those for breast and colorectal cancers, have decreased. But the province is having a hard time meeting wait times for highly complex and more urgent priority cases.

The quality of pathology reporting improved last year, with 76 per cent of pathology reports submitted in standardized electronic format according to international standards.

Half to three-quarters of Ontarians report they tried to quit smoking in the past year.

The number of adults who opted for colorectal cancer screening using the fecal occult blood test rose by 50 per cent since the last report, but still falls short of the provincial target of 40 per cent.

While 97 per cent of cancer patients reported a high degree of satisfaction with their care, only 46 to 59 per cent reported being satisfied with the emotional support they received at hospital.

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