New cancer strategy unveiled

Posted on March 8, 2008 in Health Debates – Health – New cancer strategy unveiled
March 20, 2008
Megan Ogilvie, Health Reporter

A new three-year plan for prevention and treatment of cancer is being launched today by Cancer Care Ontario.

At the core of the plan are ways to improve cancer care and access to services for patients.

“This plan is all about making the experience better for patients,” said Dr. Carol Sawka, vice-president of clinical programs for Cancer Care Ontario and medical oncologist at Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

“It’s constructed to address the issues important to patients and to improve cancer service delivery across the province.”

The plan also sets out actions to reduce the number of people diagnosed with cancer in Ontario, as well as boost early detection rates, speed up cancer diagnosis and improve regional cancer services.

One of the main challenges for cancer care in the province is to keep up with increasing demand.

Even as more people are surviving cancer, the number of people diagnosed with the disease will rise as the population grows and ages. In the next 10 years, Ontario will see a 40 per cent increase in the number of people living with cancer, said Terry Sullivan, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, which is the provincial body in charge of cancer services.

“We have to crank up our services and deploy our services more aggressively,” he said. “We have to continue to have a very strong focus on prevention and early detection to reduce burden of disease.”

Despite awareness campaigns, screening rates in Ontario for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers have stalled below provincial targets, said Sullivan. Right now, only 60 per cent of women aged 50 to 69 are getting mammography screening. Less than 40 per cent of eligible Ontarians are getting screened for colorectal cancer.

A single, high-quality and organized screening program for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers will be created to tackle the problem.

According to Cancer Care Ontario, not enough people from vulnerable populations, including aboriginal communities, people living in poverty and new immigrants, are getting screened.

Increasing screening rates, especially in these communities, is the main challenge for cancer care in the GTA, said Sullivan.

“We need to get out to different cultural communities and poor communities within the Toronto area and get to everybody about the screening message, so we can pick up cancers earlier and reduce the downstream burden of disease that we will face.”

Gains have been made in the three years since the first Ontario Cancer Plan was unveiled in 2004, particularly in wait times for radiation therapy and cancer surgeries, said Sullivan. Between 2003 and 2006, there was a 31 per cent reduction in radiation therapy wait times. And cancer surgery wait times have gone down 16 per cent since they were first reported publicly in 2006.

“It wasn’t that long ago that patients had to go to border cities (for treatment),” said Sullivan. “Now we have wait times for radiation therapy within federal and provincial benchmarks.”

One of the goals for the new three-year cancer plan is to tackle chemotherapy wait times. The average wait time in Ontario, depending on the type of cancer and where the treatment is given, can range from less than a half-week to more than 12 weeks.

To keep up with demand – Sullivan said the number of chemotherapy treatments rose by 17 per cent over the last three years – more chemotherapy will be provided in community hospitals, which will also make it easier for patients to travel to appointments.

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