Making progress in battle against cancer

Andrew Robinson
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National society president discusses prevention, efforts to increase survival rates

Scientific breakthroughs are helping Canadians battle back like never before against cancer, but the president and CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society says there is an opportunity to make even more progress.

Matthew Piercey, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador division of the Canadian Cancer Society and Pamela Fralick, president and CEO of the national office in Toronto, Ont., spoke to the media Friday at Daffodil Place in St. John’s. They updated the organization’s fundraising progress and talked about cancer survival rates from the 1950s to present. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram   

Pamela Fralick was in St. John’s this week for meetings and to attend the local society’s annual Festival of Trees fundraising event.

She noted the continued rise in the percentage of cancer patients who reach the five-year survival point. In the middle of the 20th century, only a quarter of people diagnosed with cancer managed to survive that long.

“We’re up now to 63 per cent of that five-year survivor rate, so that’s what the efforts, research and money can do,” said Fralick, who moved into her leadership role with the organization in January of this year.

According to her, scientists believe that survivor rate can reach 80 per cent by 2030.

With an eye to the future, the society has been focusing its energy on prevention. At a national level, Fralick cited the organization’s efforts to get its hotline on cigarette packaging, a move that has increased usage of that service by

37 per cent. It has also been vocal in opposing the use of tanning beds, whose use has been found to increase the probability of developing cancer.

“At the cancer society, we want to create a cancer prevention centre, both physical and virtual. It will link our researchers, few as they are right now, right across the country. We also need to fund more basic prevention research.”

Newfoundland and Labrador executive director Matthew Piercey said his team has advised the provincial health minister on matters relevant to cancer and was instrumental in getting government to introduce legislation to place an age restriction on the use of tanning beds. It has also been involved in an education project concerning habits that may contribute to developing cancer, including tobacco consumption.

For the 200-plus forms of cancer currently existing, there are three screening tests. Fralick said it is believed that figure for screening tests can one day increase to 15.

More work is also needed to aid scientific understanding of hard-to-treat cancers like pancreatic, brain and throat cancers.

“These are some of the extremely hard-to-reach cancers that are not being targeted, frankly because in many cases we don’t have the survivors to be vocal about what’s needed in those areas. We believe those survivor rates can be doubled.”

Advancing the transition from diagnosis to treatment is also on the society’s agenda nationally, according to Fralick.

While the society generally does well with its fundraising, Fralick said it has been a bit of a tough year. She noted it is a competitive market for non-profits attempting to attract donations. At present, only two per cent of the society’s donations come from businesses, and Fralick hopes that figure can rise.

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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