New cancer strategy a 'huge' milestone

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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$1.5 million to be spent on new initiatives during this fiscal year

Dr. Pradip Ganguly (right), divisional chief of radiation oncology, speaks at a news conference announcing the province's cancer control policy Tuesday. From left are Dr. Oscar Howell, Eastern Health's vice-president of medical services and diagnostics and Health Minister Jerome Kennedy.

Eastern Health’s divisional chief of radiation oncology calls a new cancer control strategy for Newfoundland and Labrador a “huge” milestone.

“This day reminds me of the title of former South African president Nelson Mandela’s book, ‘Long Walk to Freedom,’” Dr. Pradip Ganguly said at Tuesday’s announcement of the strategy.

“In the distant past, there was lack of knowledge of all aspects of cancer and there were very few treatment options, most of which had very poor outcomes.”

Ganguly said there was once a “persistent fear of suffering and stigma of living with advanced cancer,” but there has been a lot of progress, resulting in significantly better outcomes and positive changes in public attitudes.

“This shift in attitude has led to greater public involvement in cancer control issues,” Ganguly said. “It has certainly been a long walk from there to where we are today.

In addition to healthier lifestyles, Ganguly said infection control — particularly related to the human papilloma virus which has been linked to cervical cancer — and better diagnostic tools such as magnetic resonance imaging for breast screening for young women with a high risk of hereditary cancer are among the “tremendous improvements” in recent years.

“We have better treatments, all aspects of it, better surgery, better radiation treatment, better systemic therapy and there’s whole new treatments that are in the pipeline,” Ganguly added. “We will not stay behind and not ask the minister for money if we know something will be beneficial for our patients.”

In announcing the strategy titled “Gaining Ground: A Provincial Cancer Control Framework for Newfoundland and Labrador,” Health Minister Jerome Kennedy said $1.5 million has been allocated in this fiscal year for new initiatives.

Of that, $300,000 will go to a new grant program to support cancer prevention and awareness projects.

The Alliance for the Control of Tobacco will get $50,000 to develop a social media campaign directed at youth and young adults, $400,000 will be spent to examine ways of improving screening programs and promoting increased participation and $190,000 is earmarked for an analysis of the wait list and workflow for existing endoscopy services, which began in May.

The regional health authorities will receive $428,000 to enhance and expand existing palliative care and end-of-life services, which Kennedy said will result in a total annual investment in this area of about $1.3 million.

The Canadian Cancer Society, Newfoundland and Labrador division, will receive $100,000 to improve access to and understanding of cancer-related information, while Young Adult Cancer Canada will get $70,000 to support the continued growth of its organization and create awareness and understanding of unique issues facing young adults with cancer.

The strategy document, developed by the province in collaboration with health professionals and individuals involved in cancer care, consists of nine policy directions from cancer prevention and early diagnosis to co-ordinating care, access and advocacy, surveillance, education, training and accountability.

Kennedy said the goal is to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer and improve the quality of life of those living with cancer.

“Improving access to cancer care has always been an important priority for our government,” Kennedy said. “This is evident by the significant investment of over $125 million we’ve made in cancer prevention and treatment in the last seven years.”

The minister also announced that Ganguly will chair a new provincial cancer control advisory committee.

Ganguly will also provide advice on the composition of that committee and make recommendations on other related matters. He said his role will be to lead the group and stay focused on the goals of the strategy.

Dr. Oscar Howell, Eastern Health’s vice-president of medical services and diagnostics, also described Tuesday’s announcement as a milestone “in the fight against cancer.”

“As stewards of the provincial cancer care program, we at Eastern Health welcome this provincial strategy for cancer control. It represents a solid framework from which we can develop action plans to support the fight against cancer,” Howell said.

Eastern Health also announced Tuesday that it has hired a new head of cancer care.

Katherine Chubbs, a native of Lodge Bay, Labrador, will begin her new duties a vice-president of cancer care in early 2011. She is currently senior consultant, health professions strategy and practice, for Alberta Health Services.

While acing Opposition leader Kelvin Parsons welcomed the release of the cancer control strategy, he said it was long delayed.

Parsons said government promised to release it three years ago.

“One can’t help but wonder why it fell off the government’s priority list. How many other reports have gone missing in the meantime?” Parsons said.

Organizations: Alliance for the Control of Tobacco, Canadian Cancer Society, Newfoundland and Labrador division Young Adult Cancer Canada

Geographic location: Eastern Health, Newfoundland and Labrador, May.The Lodge Bay

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