World Cancer Day: Canadian patients still facing delays in care. What can be done?

Click to play video: 'Cancer Awareness Day'
Cancer Awareness Day
WATCH: Cancer Awareness Day – Feb 3, 2023

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, access to cancer care in Canada remains inconsistent, with patients continuing to experience cancelled or postponed appointments, so the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is calling on the government “to help make cancer care better.”

“The need for improvements to the cancer system has never been more urgent,” the CCS said in a statement released Saturday, which is World Cancer Day.

The organization said its findings show that about one-third of patient respondents (33 per cent) are not confident they will quickly receive quality care if they have a cancer-related emergency. Additionally, one in four respondents (25 per cent) reported still experiencing cancelled or postponed appointments.

The findings are from a national survey of 700 patients and caregivers, conducted in November 2022, “to understand how, and to what extent, people living with cancer and their caregivers are still being impacted by COVID-19.”

Story continues below advertisement

“While exhausted healthcare providers are busy doing their very best to get Canadians the life-saving treatments and screenings they need, the cancer care system remains strained, and that needs to change,” Dr. Stuart Edmonds, executive vice-president of mission, research and advocacy at the CCS, said in the statement.

“With approximately 1.5 million people in Canada currently living with or beyond cancer, we must do everything in our power to ensure the needs of people with cancer and their caregivers are a priority as decision makers address the challenges to our healthcare system.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta-made machine combining MRI and radiation to begin trials'
Alberta-made machine combining MRI and radiation to begin trials

Another widely reported disruption for both patients and caregivers, according to the CCS, is that caregivers are still unable to go with patients to cancer treatments or appointments, despite changes to many policies allowing one caregiver or support person to attend appointments again.

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

But the “most difficult type of medical care” to access, according to the CCS, is consultation with a specialist.

Story continues below advertisement

“For patients, the ability to ask questions is the most important support or resource they need to manage their care, whereas caregivers reported financial support is the most important support or resource needed,” the CCS said.

Click to play video: 'Toronto woman with terminal cancer faces renoviction'
Toronto woman with terminal cancer faces renoviction

Based on data from the Canadian Cancer Registry, CCS said it is aware of “disruptions to cancer care during the pandemic, including screening and diagnostics” that led to delayed cancer diagnoses and fewer cases being diagnosed.

In 2020, the organization said there were 6.1 per cent fewer new cancer cases compared with the annual average for 2015 to 2019, “indicating a significant number of undetected cancer cases that will require treatment and care in the coming years, adding pressure to an already strained healthcare system.”

According to a report released by Statistics Canada in January, finding these undetected cancers at an earlier stage could impact the survival possibility of patients.

Story continues below advertisement

The study looked at cases of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Canada between 2010 and 2017, including lung, breast, prostate, colon and rectal cancer — all of which collectively make up almost half of all diagnosed cancer cases in Canada — and found that the probability of surviving these cancers decrease if they are diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease.

For example, women diagnosed with breast cancer experienced five-year net survival rates of 100 per cent when the disease was detected in Stage 1, 92 per cent in Stage 2, 74 per cent in Stage 3 and 23 per cent in Stage 4, the study found.

According to Edmonds, it is the responsibility of people in power to design a system capable of making access to cancer care better in Canada.

Click to play video: 'Canadian Cancer Society talks Dry Feb'
Canadian Cancer Society talks Dry Feb

“As governments, policymakers, and administrators shape a healthcare system that has the capacity to meet rising demands and weather the unexpected, they have a responsibility to ensure that system is designed with people at its core,” Edmonds said.

Story continues below advertisement

The CCS is calling for “everyone, everywhere to get involved in advocating to government to improve cancer care.”

“The goal is to bring the lived experiences of people impacted by cancer to the forefront to help make cancer care better in all its forms: make early detection of cancer better, make backlogs and delays better, make drug access better, make palliative care better, and more,” the organization said.

For Canadians looking for cancer information, a national helpline, available in 200 languages, is available to answer questions: 1-888-939-3333, or live chat at

Community Services Locator – A directory of over 4,500 services supporting those affected by cancer.

— with files from Teresa Wright 


Sponsored content