Not all Cancer Patients are Equal, and We Want to Change That

Today is World Cancer Day, and the theme this year is Close the Care Gap, something we here at the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network believe is of the utmost importance.

The day is put on by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), with the goal of assuring access to diagnosis, treatment and care is equitable for all. Founded in 2000 at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris, the event aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, raise awareness and mobilize the global community to make progress against cancer.

And here in Canada, progress has been made. The Canadian Cancer Society notes that while cancer is still the leading cause of death in the country, and its existence has taken a long-term toll on our healthcare system, survival rates for cancers across the board have improved. In their newest report, it was found that more people are living long-term or beyond cancer. And while the number of cancer diagnoses has increased, this is in part due to our healthcare system being able to better detect it.

But of course, there are many things to be improved upon, and World Cancer Day highlights that closing the gap in care is paramount.

The UICC lists eight barriers that stand in the way of equitable cancer care:

1. Gender norms and discrimination
2. Barrier for minority populations
3. Poverty and socioeconomic status
4. The rural-urban divide
5. Age
6. Refugee status and forced displacement
7. Homophobia, transphobia and related discrimination
8. Barriers for care for people with disabilities

Despite the global nature of World Cancer Day, it’s easy to see how a number of these issues are still pertinent in a rich country like Canada.

Take for instance the barrier for minority populations. Cancer rates are high among Canada’s Indigenous populations, and are tied to the socioeconomic status that has been imposed on them. While challenges still persist, indigenous people in Canada are being engaged about their cancer care with the goal of creating better outcomes for all.

We are very aware that poverty and socioeconomic status play a key role in our cancer care. Several people in our network have written to us about how some drugs and procedures are unattainable because they are too expensive and not covered under provincial health plans. It is for this reason that we have developed Cancer Survivor to Financial Survivor, to help cancer patients and caregivers navigate through the issues of cost to their cancer care.

In November, we published an article about how people in rural Ontario often have to drive hundreds of kilometers just to get screened for lung cancer. This type of urban and rural divide to cancer care is a barrier faced here in Canada, as cancer supports in rural communities pales in comparison to the big cities.

Screening for some cancers, like breast cancer, is capped at a certain age in Canada. This makes catching cancer in the elderly population harder, a group that already has an increased risk of getting cancer. Which is why we are advocating for the expansion of screening, not only for the older populations, but younger ones too.

Despite Canada being more LGBTQ+ friendly than other parts of the world, barriers still exist to getting care. Barriers to optimal health include fear of negative reactions from doctors, doctor’s lack of understanding of the community and their health care needs, or patients avoiding the healthcare system entirely due to negative past experiences. You can find our resources for LGBTQ+ people here.

This World Cancer Day, we too are advocating for healthcare providers in our country to Close the Care Gap. We here at CCSN agree, whole heartedly, and are pledging to continue our work to make sure that improvements are made here in Canada. Because while we do not have the challenges some countries have, there are gaps in our own care that must be filled so that we can create healthy survivorship in Canada.

CCSN has also hosted a round table for World Cancer Day as part of our 2023 webinar series. You can find the video for that here.

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