B.C. tops world in cancer survival

When Nancy McKinstry got the phone call from her doctor five years ago with the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she and her husband immediately started researching.

When Nancy McKinstry got the phone call from her doctor five years ago with the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she and her husband immediately started researching.

“Whatever it took, we wanted to get the best possible treatment to ensure I survived,” recalled McKinstry.

“We were prepared to go anywhere. Then we found out that we had the best possible outcomes available to us in B.C., in our own backyard. So here I am, five years later.”

Now a major international study published in the British medical journal The Lancet confirms that we do in fact have a better chance of surviving cancer here in B.C. than anywhere else in the world.

Researchers tracked 2.4 million cancer patients in Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the UK and Canada, from 1995 to 2007.

They looked at those with breast, lung and colorectal cancers, which are relatively common, and at ovarian cancer, because of its complexity.

They found that B.C. had the best one- and five-year survival rates for both ovarian cancer (77.6 per cent and 55.8 per cent) and for breast cancer (89.1 per cent).

What’s more, B.C. survival rates improved over the study period, by nine per cent for ovarian and by seven per cent for breast cancer.

B.C. Cancer Agency medical oncologist Dr. Stephen Chia said, “Even a one to two per cent gain in survival rates has a significant impact on society. A seven per cent improvement is really dramatic and encouraging.”

Surgical oncologist Dr. Dianne Miller, chair of the Agency’s provincial gynecology tumour group, added, “Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose and treat, so this leap in our survival rates is very gratifying.

“We are fortunate to live in a jurisdiction that values cutting-edge research, and where our gains in knowledge are translating into more effective treatments and outcomes.”

Lung and colorectal cancer survival rates also saw significant improvement.

B.C. Cancer Agency president Dr. David Levy says the key to B.C.’s success in controlling cancer is the close collaboration between researchers and doctors.

“The link between research and care means new discoveries can be brought quickly to the patient’s bedside,” Levy said.

“Likewise, doctors bring problems from the bedside back to the researchers.

“By working closely together, we continuously improve patient outcomes and extend lives.”

Levy added that B.C. already has the lowest incidence and mortality rates for all cancers across Canada. “Now we know how well we are doing compared to the rest of the world,” he said.

This study underscores the unique strength of the B.C. Cancer Agency’s long-term, comprehensive cancer registry and its gold-standard quality of care, which is available to all British Columbians at its five regional cancer centres and affiliated treatment facilities.

Better outcomes can only come from improvements to care, which come from new evidence gained through research.

The thousands of donors who support cancer research through the BC Cancer Foundation are key partners in this equation.

Their philanthropy has fuelled the discoveries that continue to benefit B.C. cancer patients and their families. The outcomes show this is so.

The BC Cancer Foundation (www.bccancerfoundation.com) is the fundraising partner of the B.C. Cancer Agency and the largest charitable funder of cancer research in B.C.

As an independent charitable organization, we raise funds exclusively for the B.C. Cancer Agency that support innovative cancer research and compassionate enhancements to patient care. 

The BC Cancer Agency (www.bccancer.bc.ca), an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority, provides a comprehensive cancer control program for the people of B.C. and Yukon, including prevention, screening and early detection programs, research and education, and care and treatment. 

Judy Hamill is a communications specialist for the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

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