Here, Andrea Seale CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, discusses the recently elected government’s commitments to support Canadians with cancer
Cancer is a disease that does not discriminate. In fact, one in two Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, which affects not only the individual but also their family, friends and communities. To compound the situation, it is expected that the number of cancers diagnosed in 2030 will be 80% greater than in 2005 due to an ageing population. The magnitude of this increase requires a new level of support for people living with cancer and their families.
Without a strong nationwide response, there is a risk that the rising number of cancer cases will overwhelm our healthcare system, compromising the quality of care available to people with cancer today and crowding out the investments required to better prevent and treat the disease tomorrow.
In November 2019, Canadians re-elected a minority Liberal Government. During the campaign period, the Canadian Cancer Society lobbied all parties to address the needs of Canadians living with cancer. The government committed to important health-related priorities including national universal pharmacare and an extension of the Employment Insurance Sickness Benefit from 15 to 26 weeks. These commitments are reinforced in cabinet ministers’ mandate letters, along with other important commitments:
- Addressing drug shortages.
- Promoting healthy eating, including restrictions on the marketing of food and beverages to children and establishing front-of-package labelling.
- Addressing the rapid rise in youth vaping.
- Much-needed investments in pediatric cancer research.
These commitments signal a progressive movement toward helping Canadians live longer, healthier lives. Now, the important work of bringing these commitments to reality lies ahead.
Gaps in cancer care
Although progress is being made, there remain gaps in Canada’s cancer care system that need to be addressed.
Equitable access to cancer drugs
Improved access to drugs, including addressing drug shortages, is an urgent priority. Because of advances in cancer treatment, diagnostics and care, more than 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer today will survive at least five years after their diagnosis compared to 25% in the 1940s. Cancer drugs work to destroy cancer cells, stop them from spreading, slow down their growth and lessen, or relieve, side effects of cancer and its treatment. Given the importance of cancer drugs, Canadians should have equitable access without financial hardship, regardless of where they live or where the drugs are administered.
Addressing youth vaping
Studies show that youth vaping is on the rise. Troubling data released in December 2019 from the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CSTADS) found the use of e-cigarettes among high school students has doubled from 2016-17 to 2018-19. Evidence indicates that youth who use e-cigarettes with nicotine may become addicted and are at increased risk of becoming smokers. We must avoid a new generation of teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping products.
Reducing the financial burden of cancer
Disruptions in earning power and additional expenses accrued during cancer treatment can have a devastating impact physically, emotionally and financially on the person with cancer and their caregivers. People with cancer need financial support so that energy can be focused on getting well, rather than worrying about cancer’s financial burden. Surviving cancer should be something Canadians celebrate – not the cause of another set of problems.
Improving the development and delivery of palliative care
Palliative care refers to care that focuses on quality of life of patients and families throughout the cancer journey – from diagnosis to end of life. There is a need for improved development and delivery of early, active, competent, and compassionate palliative care. This includes expert pain management, skilled psychosocial, emotional, and spiritual support whether at home, in a hospital or any other settings of the patient’s choice. All Canadians should have access to affordable, high-quality palliative care regardless of where they live and in what setting they choose to receive care.
Holding big tobacco accountable
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada and causes 45,000 Canadian deaths each year. Currently, provinces and territories in Canada have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hold the tobacco industry accountable for the damage it has done to families and the financial burden it has placed on our healthcare system. Each province has filed a lawsuit against tobacco companies for covering up the health effects of tobacco use, deceptive advertising and targeting women, children and vulnerable groups, inspired by the U.S. experience in the 1990s.
Investing in pediatric cancer research
In the late 1980s, only about 71% of Canadian children diagnosed with cancer survived for at least five years after their diagnosis, but today, about 84% will survive five or more years. Despite the impact research can have on the treatment and survival rates of cancers; investments in pediatric cancer research have levelled off in recent years. New investments will lead to new and more effective treatments for childhood cancers and an increase in the number of children who survive into adulthood.
These gaps are by no means an exhaustive list. Advancements in policies to prevent cancer and support those affected by cancer will take continued commitment from all levels of government, coordinated action across sectors, ongoing advocacy and building public pressure on lawmakers. Together, we can be a force-for-life in the face of cancer by asking that our governments do more to prevent cancer, fund research and support those living with the disease.
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