The Canadian Cancer Care Recovery Project
In the midst of the chaos of our lives caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s some great news: we as a society have risen to the challenge of facing down a serious disease and rapidly learned how to manage it, treat it and prevent it. Thousands of Canadian lives have been saved as a result.
Now it’s time to take some of the same dynamic thinking used to fight COVID-19 and apply it to our biggest longstanding health issue: cancer. It’s time for the Canadian Cancer Care Recovery Project.
Unfortunately, cancer care in Canada has also been a major victim of COVID-19. As a result of the pandemic, there have been delays in accessing cancer screening, treatments and surgeries. But we can choose to use this experience to create a better system of cancer care in Canada.
“We’re at a big fork in the road, where on one side we can struggle along trying to keep up or, on the other, we can build a much better cancer care system across Canada using our learnings from the pandemic,” says Dr. Gerald Batist, Medical Director of the Segal Cancer Centre of the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
“The pandemic showed us that with determined effort and political will, we can provide Canadians everywhere with speedy access to screening tests, innovative vaccines, effective treatments and care to save lives. Now let’s do the same for cancer.”
There’s no denying the need. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, cancer will strike one in every two Canadians and will be responsible for the death of one out of every four. It is the leading cause of death in Canada, claiming about three times more Canadian lives every year than were caused by COVID-19 in the first year and a half of the pandemic.
But there is cause for hope. Survival rates are increasing. New treatments are revolutionizing cancer care and new types of screening and prevention are stopping cancer and finding it earlier. But to benefit from this progress, Canada needs a stronger cancer care system that must first build back from the challenges caused by the pandemic.
WHAT WAS THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON CANCER CARE?
To find out the state of cancer care in Canada, C.A.R.P. surveyed its members in September 2021. Among the key findings is that almost one in every three people who received a cancer diagnosis since the pandemic began in March 2020 said their diagnosis was delayed because of the pandemic and one in four said their cancer treatments or surgery had been delayed.
Importantly for patients, of 440 respondents who said their cancer tests, treatments or surgery were delayed, half said that the impact on their mental health was moderate, major or severe. And of these respondents, 60% said they are concerned the delays will have a negative impact on their cancer prognosis. The Canadian Cancer Survivor Network also conducted several surveys over the course of the pandemic, showing that COVID has significantly disrupted cancer care across Canada.
These pandemic-caused problems are being added to a cancer care system that was already under strain due to the growth in cancer in Canada as the population ages. That’s because 90% of cancer diagnoses are made in Canadians aged 50 or more.
“The pandemic has been very challenging for cancer patients at every stage of their journey,” says Kathy Barnard, Founder and President of Save Your Skin Foundation and herself a survivor of metastatic melanoma. “It has raised anxiety as tests, surgeries and treatments have been delayed and physical isolation from friends and family members has made a difficult time even more challenging. But at the same time, we’ve learned new ways of doing certain things that should help us as we move forward to improve the health system.”
An important initiative that was quickly launched during the pandemic was the All.Can Canada Cancer Support Hub for patients. It was created by a coalition of patient groups, including Save Your Skin Foundation, to ensure cancer patients have access to support and information for the most urgent and immediate emotional and practical issues encountered as a result of COVID.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO IMPROVE CANCER CARE IN CANADA
Fortunately, there are actions that can be taken to improve cancer care and “build back better” to meet the needs of Canadians.
“Two things are essential to seize this unique opportunity to improve our cancer care system across Canada,” stated Dr. Batist. “First, we need a plan. We can’t just drift back to what we were doing before and try to catch up. Let’s rapidly develop and implement a pan-Canadian cancer strategy to accelerate research and adoption of new ways of meeting patient needs. Let’s act on this as quickly as we did for COVID.”
“Second, we need more investment. The pandemic showed that with substantial federal investments, the provinces were able to deliver far more, much more quickly. Let’s do the same for cancer because we absolutely need it, both to deal with the pandemic cancer backlog but also to improve the speed and quality of care going forward.”
In Canada’s past, major events such as wars and the Great Depression have led to major societal changes, such as the development of our social safety net and our medicare system. Canadians imagined better ways things could be done and didn’t rest until changes were made.
Now it’s time to use our very hard learnings from COVID-19 to improve cancer care for all Canadians. What a positive legacy that would be.
For more information on C.A.R.P.’s September 2021 cancer survey, visit: carp.ca/fightcancer
 Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019, Executive Summary p. 6;
 Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019, Executive Summary p. 6, 82,100 cancer deaths per year versus 27,216 deaths from COVID-19 from March 10, 2020 to Sept. 9, 2021, from Health Canada, COVID-19 Daily Epidemiology Update, https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-summary-covid-19-cases.html;
 Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, August 26, 2021: https://survivornet.ca/news/cancer-cant-wait-new-survey-reveals-covid-19-continues-to-disrupt-cancer-care-across-canada/;
 Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2019, Executive Summary, p. 7
Developed by C.A.R.P./Zoomer with financial support from Merck Canada Inc.