Pancreatic cancer survival rates in Nova Scotia continue to fall, remain lowest in Canada

Click to play video 'Health-care professionals looking at pancreatic cancer care in Halifax' Health-care professionals looking at pancreatic cancer care in Halifax
Healthcare advocate believes lack of doctors and nurses is contributing to lower cancer survival rates – May 11, 2019

Healthcare professionals from across the Maritimes and beyond gathered for the Eastern Canada Pancreatic Cancer Symposium this Saturday.

The symposium aims to examine the state of healthcare, looking at the current challenges within cancer care and the impacts it’s having on patients.

Cancer statistics in Canada are startling as the Canadian Cancer Society says that close to one in two Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime, with one in four dying of the disease.

In Nova Scotia, the statistics are stark.

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Nova Scotians diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have half the chance of surviving the disease compared to those in Ontario.

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Stefanie Condon-Oldreive, the founder and director of Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society, believes it comes down to a lack of doctors and nurses working here.

“Nova Scotians need to have a family doctor and they need to have that healthcare advocate when they are presenting with early signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer,” said Condon-Oldreive.

“Those GPs (general practitioners) need to know what those early signs and symptoms are, so that the pathway to diagnosis is quicker. Without that quicker pathway to diagnosis, we’re really looking at a critical time that could potentially save a patients life or not.”

Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society played host to the symposium, the national charity group was founded by Condon-Oldreive, to honour her father Craig who died from pancreatic cancer just 8-weeks after he finally received his proper diagnosis.

Early screening is critical, says Condon-Oldreive, but with Nova Scotia struggling with a doctor shortage, the stakes are literally life and death

“When you are waiting 10 or 11 months and you have a cancer with the highest fatality of all cancers and the lowest survival rate, that 10 or 11 months is crucial time that is lost for that patient,” Condon-Oldreive said.

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The aim of the annual symposium is to get the healthcare professionals out of their clinics and into labs together, sharing their knowledge and data, in order to make sure the best practices are being applied.

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Click to play video 'Alex Trebek proclaims ‘I’m a 62-day survivor’ as Jeopardy host talks about his cancer diagnosis' Alex Trebek proclaims ‘I’m a 62-day survivor’ as Jeopardy host talks about his cancer diagnosis
Alex Trebek proclaims ‘I’m a 62-day survivor’ as Jeopardy host talks about his cancer diagnosis – May 5, 2019

With the province having the lowest rates of survival for pancreatic cancer, it’s important to act.

“The differences between several of the provinces is one or two per cent, but still we do have some of the lowest survival rates,” said guest speaker Dr. Ravi Ramjeesingh, a physician and medical oncologist at QE ll hospital in Halifax.

“When you actually look over time, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer in Nova Scotia has actually been decreasing, whereas you would expect it to be increasing over time.”

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Dr. Ramjeesingh can’t pinpoint one issue for the disturbing trend, but says it’s tough to figure out why pancreatic cancer in Nova Scotia remains so dire. Still, he agrees that having more healthcare professionals like family doctors and nurses working here, along with more research dollars, would go a long way.

“There’s a lot more emphasis on research and a lot more emphasis on personalized medicine now,” he said. “The hope is with the changes that were starting to implement we’re hoping that we will see benefits for the pancreatic cancer patients, the problem is it takes time to see the data and to see what’s happening.”

At last count, the number of Nova Scotians without a family doctor topped the 50 thousand mark and is something the province is aware of and is trying to address through recruitment drives.