A new report released today by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) shows that the number of people living with or beyond cancer in this country continues to grow, to over 1.5 million people. This prevalence figure, previously estimated to be 1 million a decade ago, is caused by both increased survival and incidence, making it both a reason for optimism and concern.
The report – Canadian Cancer Statistics: A 2022 special report on cancer prevalence – was developed by the Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee in collaboration with CCS, Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The report details that at the beginning of 2018, an estimated 1.5 million people alive in Canada had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous 25 years; approximately 60% of whom were diagnosed 5 to 25 years ago. This highlights the high number of people living long-term with or beyond cancer.
“Investments in research are paying off in the form of better methods of timely detection and more effective treatments, and as a result, we’re now seeing more people surviving cancer and living longer with and beyond the disease,” explains Dr Jennifer Gillis, Senior Manager of Surveillance at CCS. “There has been much accomplished for us to collectively celebrate but these new data also reveal that our work is not nearly done.”
The rising prevalence is also attributable to rising cancer incidence, or more cases diagnosed. In 2012, approximately 193,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in Canada, rising to approximately 206,000 in 2017. Today, it is estimated that 233,900 people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2022. This growth in incidence is largely due to Canada’s growing and aging population and emphasizes the importance of cancer prevention.
“Increasing prevalence – more people being diagnosed and more surviving – creates long-term strain on our healthcare system and underlines why we must work together to create a system that can evolve as patients’ needs evolve from diagnosis through survival or end of life care,” adds Gillis.
Cancer’s toll on the healthcare system
As more people live with or beyond cancer, an already stretched healthcare system will be faced with additional pressures. According to a September 2022 CCS-led report, Living at the crossroads of COVID-19 and cancer, the pandemic has meant delays and interruptions in care for many, which may result in late-stage diagnoses as our healthcare system struggles to cope with additional demand. Without new investments and supporting policies, our healthcare system will be under-resourced to keep up with the growing number of Canadians who will be impacted by cancer.
As the number of people living long-term with or beyond cancer increases, the support needed to ensure quality of life in the post-treatment and survivorship periods will increase as well.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for her breast cancer diagnosis at age 30, J. Nadia Headley’s next step was the reconstruction process when suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Because of the strain the pandemic placed on the healthcare system, the surgeries she needed were rescheduled.
“Because of COVID-19, I had surgeries shifted twice, 4 to 5 months at a time,” says Nadia. “Each shift means the next ones get shifted too. You try to be patient and understand, but you just want to close the chapter on your cancer journey. We need to get better at preventing delays to healthcare.”
CCS is advocating for all levels of government to work together to help create a sustainable healthcare system for the 1.5 million people who need it right now. People in Canada need immediate investments in our healthcare system that ensure equitable and timely access to cancer care services for all, regardless of where they live or where they receive care. We created Voices for Change – a volunteer network for people who want to make a difference – because we know there is a growing community of people impacted by cancer who want to join our efforts to make cancer care better.
Advancing life-saving research
“Research is one of our most valuable tools to turn the tide on the rising cancer prevalence in this country,” explains Gillis. “Thanks to advances in research, we are better today than ever before at preventing cancers, detecting them earlier and treating them more effectively, as well as helping people to live well with and beyond cancer.”
For example, because of research, we now know that virtually all cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV infection, that BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants play a significant role in breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer risk, and that liquid biopsies can lead to more effective treatment and better outcomes for people with prostate cancer.
As more people are diagnosed with and survive cancer, more research investments are needed to help reduce cancer risk, improve methods of timely detection, diagnosis and treatment, and ensure people living with and beyond cancer have a high quality of life.
That’s why CCS continues to invest in world-leading research taking place across the country. Over the last 10 years, CCS has invested $640 million in cancer research and with the support of donors, aims to increase our annual investment in research steadily in the coming years. In 2021-22, CCS invested $44.33 million in cancer research that is helping more Canadians prevent cancer, live with and survive cancer, and improve life after cancer.
A key part of enhancing efforts to prevent cancer and support those living with and beyond cancer is CCS’s recent launch of its Centre for Cancer Prevention and Support (CCPS). A first-of-its kind facility in Canada, CCPS leads new nationwide research and programs that help prevent cancer before it happens and address the challenges of life after cancer.
Providing a support system
While advances in research will offer long-term solutions to reduce the number of people developing cancer and increase the number of those who survive a diagnosis, supports are vital to help the over 1.5 million people currently living with or beyond cancer.
“From diagnosis to treatment and life after cancer or end-of-life, people need to feel supported throughout the experience, however long that may be,” adds Dr Gillis. “Compassionate support programs are such an important part of the cancer experience; they can help a diagnosis feel less scary, make treatment a little easier and help people facing cancer and survivors thrive.”