With a strained and fractured health system, Andrea Seale, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, discusses the importance of creating a person-centred cancer care system that serves all populations equitably.
With the ‘Close the Care Gap’ World Cancer Day campaign now in its second year, the global cancer community is being called upon once again to unite our voices and take action on 4 February. And answering this call has never been more important.
In late 2022, the Canadian Cancer Society in collaboration with Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada released a special report on cancer prevalence, which found that there are currently over 1.5 million people in Canada living with or beyond cancer. That number has steadily risen over the last decade. Two in five Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
We also know that the impacts of cancer don’t end when treatment ends – more than 70% of cancer survivors experience significant physical and emotional challenges post-treatment. There is no doubt that cancer is and will be one of our most pressing health issues this year and for years to come, only to be amplified as the Canadian population grows and ages.
In the weeks, months and years ahead, more Canadians will need access to cancer care than ever before. This will undeniably impact our already stretched cancer system, with escalating pressures. To ensure that the cancer care system of the future is accessible to everyone and that it meets the needs of all who depend on it, we must take action now.
We’re at a pivotal moment in time to transform Canadian cancer care. Like in many parts of the world, the pandemic has strained Canada’s healthcare system and exposed its many gaps and vulnerabilities. Through a recent patient and caregiver survey conducted by the Canadian Cancer Society, we continue to hear from Canadians about prolonged impacts the pandemic is having – from wait times to delays to escalating anxieties and caregiving burdens. We also hear from people directly who share these concerns and want their voices heard.
Change is urgently needed. We can’t afford to stall on this when lives are in the balance. Last year alone, over 230,000 Canadians were expected to be diagnosed with cancer. While exhausted healthcare providers are busy doing their very best to get Canadians the life-saving treatments and screenings they need, decision-makers have been tasked with planning for the rising demand being placed on an already fragmented cancer care system. We must do everything in our power to ensure that the cancer care system in Canada will get better.
To achieve this, we need to put people at the core of every decision about cancer care. This can only happen if the unique perspectives and experiences of people affected by cancer are considered by those with influential power to shape system-wide change.
Those of us in the cancer community can do our part by finding ways to unite and amplify the voices of people with cancer and their loved ones, bringing their lived experiences to the forefront. This year, we’re doing that through our Get Better card-writing campaign, where we are calling on elected officials to listen to Canadians’ stories and the challenges they are facing when accessing and receiving cancer care.
We hear about people who were not screened for cancer early enough who were diagnosed with a later stage cancer that is harder to treat. We hear stories of people having to spend hundreds of dollars to get immune-boosting injections after a stem cell transplant. And we hear from people dealing with life-saving treatments being delayed multiple times, several months at a time, which can feel like an eternity.
We challenge them to shift ideas into action and work with us to make cancer care better at all stages of the cancer experience. This includes making palliative care better, making early detection of cancer better, making backlogs and delays better, making drug access better and more.
As we do the work of uniting voices to inspire action, it is essential that we seek out and pay close attention to the voices of people from underserved communities who face inequities and barriers in accessing quality, timely and safe healthcare. These inequities, although present prior to 2020, were only intensified by the pandemic.
Providing access to cancer care that is responsive to the specific needs of people of all ages and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds is key to closing the care gap, not only in Canada, but around the world. Because a person-centred system that is designed to reach the most underserved populations will surely reach everyone.
When systems are fractured, we have an opportunity to rebuild them so they are stronger than before. It’s time to apply our learnings and expertise to innovate and transform cancer care, for the benefit of everyone affected by cancer now and in the future. To do this, we must unite our voices. Because profound progress is possible when we act together. Together, we can change the future of cancer care for the better.