The provincial government is pledging to eliminate cervical cancer in B.C. as part of a 10-year plan worth $440 million to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer with additional spending to come in the future.
Premier David Eby announced the plan Friday (Feb. 24) in Vancouver, where he was joined by Health Minister Adrian Dix and leading figures from the BC Cancer agency, which operates six regional cancer centres and funds research into the disease among other roles.
The plan will immediately add $270 million over three years to BC Cancer’s budget to expand operations at cancer centres and put $170 million toward the BC Cancer Foundation for research and attracting professionals. The province plans to make additional announcements beyond the initial $440 million.
BC Cancer’s annual budget is about $971 million.
Eby said cancer has affected nearly every British Columbian in some way and this plan will help save lives.
“With this significant investment in cancer care, we can prevent and detect cancer earlier and improve access to treatment.”
In 2021, more than 30,000 British Columbians received a cancer diagnosis and more than 11,000 died of cancer.
The province announced the plan among predictions that one-in-two residents will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. Experts predict that the disease will become more and more common as the population ages. Medical advances also mean more people are requiring on-going care after surviving cancer.
Eby said B.C. ranks second among Canadian provinces in terms of outcomes when it comes to dealing with cancer. But the province’s growing and aging population means more people will receive a cancer diagnosis in the future, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted care, he added.
“We have strains in our cancer system and we need to respond,” he said.
Dix said the province will be investing in research, technology and innovation to improve care.
“This action plan will help achieve a cancer-free future for more people, accelerate treatment for patients diagnosed with cancer and help thousands more survive their cancer diagnosis,” he said. He also pointed to already announced measures to recruit more health workers in the field of cancer treatment.
Dr. Kim Chi, BC Cancer’s chief medical officer, called the plan the largest the province has ever seen.
“It will save lives and address the growing demand for cancer care we have today and for the next 10 years as our population grows and ages,” he said.
Friday’s announcement comes after the provincial cancer care system has gone through a series of changes during the past decade, which have drawn criticism about the level of care available in B.C.
Andrea Seale, chief executive officer of the Canadian Cancer Society, wrote in a media opinion piece in January 2023 that that the province is facing a “cancer care crisis” in calling for additional improvements.
Specific measures include the building of more regional cancer centres and the expansion of existing ones; financial support for British Columbians travelling for care from rural areas; and attracting more oncologists through higher salaries to help meet medical benchmarks for cancer treatment.
They call for 90 per of patients to be seen by their oncologist within four weeks of referral, 90 per cent of patients receiving chemotherapy within two weeks of being ready for treatment and 90 per cent of patients receiving raditation within four weeks of being ready for treatment.
“These are achieveable goals and with the investments that have been made over the last year we are building toward those goals,” Chi said in acknowleding that those goals are not being met yet. “It does take time to recruit people, it take times to treat people.”
An investigation by the Globe and Mail late last year found 88 per cent of patients in B.C. were able to start radiation treatment within four weeks, with the national average being 97 per cent.
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