From Screening to Rehabilitation:
Ensuring Survivorship for Cancer Patients in Ontario
Report on CCSN’s Third All-party Cancer Caucus at Queen’s Park
On November 29, 2018, the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, MPPs and staff, cancer patients, survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals met together at the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
This third meeting of the All-party Cancer Caucus kicked off with an introduction to CCSN by President and CEO Jackie Manthorne, followed by an overview of gaps in rehabilitation services for cancer survivors, which was the topic discussed at the previous two All-party Cancer Caucus meetings. Presentations were then made on why it is important to create a provincial screening program for prostate cancer, and access to take-home cancer treatments.
Rehabilitative services for cancer survivors
CCSN’s Director of Public Policy, Jaymee Maaghop, provided information on the work being done by Cancer Care Ontario in addressing gaps in psychosocial and rehab services. Dr. Jennifer Jones showcased Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship Program and the improvements in quality of life it has enabled patients to have. For more information about the program, please click here. An online version of this rehab program, which will be launched in 2019, was seen by MPPs as a great initiative to reach rural areas of the province to ensure that patients have access.
Screening for prostate cancer
Doug Nugent, a prostate cancer survivor, gave a presentation on how the PSA test saved his life. “PSA testing in Ontario costs $30. Does this deter men from getting their PSA tested? Yes, it does,” said Nugent. “My PSA tests were covered by my work insurance; but without PSA testing, I might not be here with you today.”
Caregiver Heather Redick portrayed the tremendous physical, mental, and financial burdens of prostate cancer. She shared the prostate cancer journey her late friend Percy, who was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. “He died a horrendous, painful death in my home. I listened to that man scream for 36 hours before there was silence,” Redick bravely shared with the Cancer Caucus. “For nearly five years, my husband and I lived with prostate cancer as caregivers to Percy. Caregiving does wear a body down, mentally and physically,” added Redick.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, about 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. Meanwhile, seven out ten provinces in Canada publicly fund PSA testing, with Ontario as one of the exceptions.
Nugent and Redick both urged MPPs to push for the implementation of a provincial screening program for prostate cancer. This would entail the funding of a baseline PSA blood test for all men over 45 and the funding of regular PSA blood testing for all men 55 years old/older.
Access to treatments
The last topic discussed was funding and safety issues related to take-home cancer drugs (THCD) in Ontario. Robert Bick, Co-Lead of the CanCertainty Coalition and Board Member of Kidney Cancer Canada, explained the inaccessibility and unsafe practices in Ontario’s administration of THCD.
Cancer therapies are increasingly in the form of oral THCD. Due to the lack of public coverage for THCD, Ontarians who do not have private insurance, are under the age of 65, or are not on social assistance may encounter financial difficulties in accessing life-saving treatments.
Cancer treatments like IV drugs are administered in hospital by oncology pharmacists who are informed about the treatments and its potential interactions with a patient and their medical history. However, THCDs are most often dispensed at local pharmacies, where pharmacists may not have experience with THCDs and may there not be able to appropriately advise patients about their cancer medications.
Bick highlighted the fact that “cancer drugs are cancer drugs. We should not differentiate on the basis of how they enter the body, whether they go through your mouth or through your arm. However, in Ontario there’s discrimination based on which cancer you have: if a certain cancer is treated completely by IV therapies, it’s free, so you have no financial burden. If you have a cancer that requires treatment by oral take-home cancer drugs, you have significant financial costs and thus access issues.”
“Make your time at Queen’s Park mean something. When you leave public office and reflect on what you’ve accomplished, make saving lives a part of your story,” urged Heather Redick.
MPPs understood that there are many opportunities they can pursue to improve the lives of cancer patients in Ontario and indeed to save lives. MPPs listened and engaged with patients, caregivers and survivors, and were moved by the stories they heard. Robust discussions ensued after each presentation, and there was strong encouragement from MPPs for CCSN to continue the All-party Cancer Caucus.
CCSN and cancer community representatives will return to Queen’s Park in 2019 for its fourth cancer caucus meeting. Stay tuned!
MPP Members of the All-party Cancer Caucus
- PC: Robin Martin, Doug Downey, Andrea Khanjin, Natalia Kusendova, Christina Mitas, Deepak Anand, Belinda Karahalios, Daisy Wai, Stephen Crawford
- NDP: France Gélinas, Sara Singh, Laura Mae Lindo, Jill Andrew, Peggy Sattler
- Liberals: John Fraser
- Green: Mike Schreiner
CCSN & Cancer Community Representatives
- Jackie Manthorne, President & CEO, CCSN
- Mona Forrest, Secretary, CCSN Board of Directors
- Jaymee Maaghop, CCSN Director of Public Policy
- Jennifer M. Jones, Director, Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship Program, Butterfield Drew Chair in Cancer Survivorship Research and Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN, and Associate Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, Dalla Lana School of Public Health (Cross-Appointment), University of Toronto
- Heather Redick, caregiver
- Doug Nugent, prostate cancer survivor, Vice-Chair of Prostate Cancer Canada Network Ottawa (PCCNO)
- Robert (Bob) Bick, Co-Lead of CanCertainty Coalition, Vice-Chair of Kidney Cancer Canada, Health Policy Consultant in Drug Access and Reimbursement Policy