Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good news on cancer survival for Canadians - let's spread the love

Note: the following article discusses cancer survival rates. In the throes of cancer treatment, the last thing this patient wanted to do was read about statistics. So, even though this is a good news story for people in this part of the world, you may want to proceed with caution. Fair warning. :-)

Last night, my mother-in-law (hi Lillian) phoned with good news she had heard on the radio - if you have breast cancer, there isn't a better place in the world to be than British Columbia (my home province). On Tuesday, members of the BC Cancer Agency presented the news that was published the same day in the Lancet - when compared to  five other regions (Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the UK), positive outcomes were highest for breast and ovarian cancer patients here in BC. News was also good for BC lung and colorectal cancer patients. The one-year survival rate for lung cancer patients jumped from 36.6%  in 1995-99 to 43% in 2005-07, and for colorectal cancer patients it went from 59.8% to 64%.

The Globe and Mail discusses the report from a national perspective and the news is very good for all Canadians. The research examined survival rates for lung, breast, colorectal and ovarian cancer between 1995 and 2007 in these six countries whose common link is their universal health-care systems. The study found that survival rates have increased for all four cancers in all the countries during this time period, but the disparities indicate that there is a significant number of avoidable deaths.

Read the article for more specifics. But now let's talk about what we do with this information. My husband's aunt (hi Judy) has been very involved in cancer care in Washington State and it, too, is a remarkable hot bed of talent and teamwork. When my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, he opted to head to Seattle for faster treatment than he would get here in BC. We feel very fortunate in this neck of the woods to have access to so many smart people all working together to share and build on common knowledge in pursuit of better prevention, more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment. But it isn't good enough to sit and glow in our own successes; we need to find new and better ways to share it with health care teams across the world.

I had an interesting moment with my oncologist in September. We were discussing the things I would be doing to help prevent a recurrence and I was asking questions about bone loss and inflammation and the few other things my sleepy post-chemo brain had held onto. And he said a neat thing to me - "We'll see in December. I'll have more news for you after the conference I'm going to in December." As a patient, I take a great deal of comfort from that kind of interaction. I have a doctor actively seeking new information on advances in cancer treatment and care and doing it with an eye to how it affects his patients. And I wish that for every other patient in the world.

One final note: as the year closes and some of us consider making donations to charitable foundations before 2011, could I ask you to consider groups working on childhood cancers. Many thanks.


  1. Cyn, This is good news for those in British Columbia. How does survival rate compare to that of the US? Also, I have been wondering how you feel about your health care system in general, have you been satisfied? Everyone is covered in Canada, right? I don't know why the US has such trouble with this health care issue. Also, yes you are lucky to have such a doctor actively seeking the latest advances. On another note, have a wonderful holiday and enjoy those boys of yours. Hope you are feeling less blue.

  2. Hi Nancy, good question - when I get a quiet moment over the holiday I'll check in to the US stats. I have been extremely happy with my health care system this past year and a bit. I was whisked in as soon as there was any concern and I moved to the front of the line for all my procedures - but cancer kind of requires that. :-) We have universal health care so all are covered, although we do pay premiums and get extended coverage voluntarily either through our employers or by purchasing add-on plans. The extra coverage has helped me reduce the cost of some of my medications and covered some of my additional requirements (wig, prosthetic breast, bra etc.).

    The system is not perfect, but it works very well. We have been watching with great interest the recent attempts to rework the US system and, I have to admit, I am a little shocked at how some people there perceive our system. I hope wiser and calmer heads prevail and real change is allowed to happen so that less Americans end up drowning in medical expense related debt.

    The blues have been replaced by frenetic preparations - which is a blessed relief. :-)

    Thank you for the holiday wishes - I return them to you. Have a fantastic holiday. I'll be reading your blog in the new year.