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More Canadians are beating cancer


The overall cancer survival rate has improved since the early 1990s from 55 per cent to 63 per cent. - 123RF
The overall cancer survival rate has improved since the early 1990s from 55 per cent to 63 per cent. - 123RF

More people are surviving cancer in Canada, according to the latest report from the Canadian Cancer Society, but the incidence of many diseases remain high in the Atlantic region.

“Across the board there’s good news related to cancer survival,” said Kelly Cull, the society’s regional director for public policy, in an interview Wednesday.

“We’re seeing increases in the number of people who are surviving the most common cancers.”

The overall cancer survival rate has improved since the early 1990s from 55 per cent to 63 per cent. The survival rates are even higher in that time period for blood cancers such as non-Hodgins lymphoma (from 49 per cent to 68 per cent), leukemia (43 per cent to 59 per cent and multiple myeloma (27 per cent to 44 per cent).

But even with those improvements, the report said, an estimated 7,450 people in Canada are expected to die of a blood cancer this year.

“Precision medicine has really been the key to unlocking some of the treatments around blood cancer,” Cull said. “We know that precision medicine is a new and entirely different way of treating cancer that’s based on the unique figures of the individual. It could be their gene but most often it’s (the) particular type of cancer that person has.”

A big part of Cull’s role in the Canadian Cancer Society is advocating for healthier lifestyles, such as smoking reduction, and for changes in government policies with an eye to reducing cancer rates.

For example, the society has been pushing hard for provincial governments to increase the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21 years.

Although the Canadian Cancer Society sees vaping as healthier than smoking, many young non-smokers are the ones embracing it, says Kelly Cull.
Although the Canadian Cancer Society sees vaping as healthier than smoking, many young non-smokers are the ones embracing it, says Kelly Cull.

“This is a policy that has gained a huge amount of momentum through the U.S.” she said. “There are now 18 states that have 21 as their smoking age. We know this is coming to Canada and we believe, particularly given that Atlantic Canada has such high — relative to the rest of Canada — youth smoking rates, that this is a really good place for that policy to start in Canada.”

About 72 per cent of lung cancer cases are preventable with tobacco being the primary preventable cause of lung cancer, she said.

Cull is particularly worried about the popularity of vaping among youth. While e-cigarettes may be a better alternative for regular tobacco smokers, most people who vape are younger non-smokers.

“We see this certainly as a significant threat in terms of reversing this trend as it relates to not only vaping products but smoking products,” she said.

“The trend is that young people are using both of these products and very, very high rates in the case of vaping — extremely alarming numbers. So certainly that is having an impact on where these trends are going. We are seeing a disturbing kind of shift of the pendulum in terms of smoking rates for young people. We certainly belive the vaping culture has something to do with that.”

The incidence of cancer in general in eastern Canada remains high compared to the rest of the country, Cull said, which mostly can be attributed to poor lifestyle and health habits.

“We have higher smoking rates, we have higher alcohol use rates, we have higher rates of overweight and obesity. So all of those risk factors would certainly contribute to the trend that we see east to west.”

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