Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Hastings.
“You have cancer”. Those are three simple words in the English language that no one wants to hear. Those are three simple words that have often, too often, altered the course of the lives of numerous Canadians and turned them upside down. Those three words too frequently have devastating consequences and are the equivalent to a death sentence.
The words evoke for many such an overpowering and paralyzing fear that people are often unable to utter the words. In the next 20 years it is estimated that 1.45 million Canadians will hear those words. One of those people could be a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a best friend or a child.
Cancer knows no prejudice. Cancer knows no boundaries of religion, ethnicity or language. Cancer knows no boundaries of size or shape. Age and gender does not matter. Social status and financial income does not matter. It can affect anyone. Everyone is frightened by those three words.
For all the ramifications that those three simple words have on one's physical health, it is paralleled by the destruction it wreaks on the mental health of individuals. The moment people learn they or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer is indelibly etched in their lasting memories. Those affected are never the same once they hear those three simple words. The time and relationships we have with those around us have new meaning. We mull over questions that, up until that point, rarely entered our mind. People do not really ponder the essence of their existence as during the period when it could potentially end.
After being diagnosed, for many the aggressive treatments that will likely follow--radiation, chemotherapy or surgery--only serve as additional anguish. The assortment of side effects that result from these treatments--fever, nausea, hair loss, vomiting, infections and extreme fatigue--effectively make the search for the cure as difficult as the diagnosis.
The impact of those three simple words is not restricted to individuals. The diagnosis has ramifications for their loved ones, especially their families. The diagnosis creates a ripple effect that inevitably causes increased stress and tension as circumstances advance beyond control and as the physical changes are mirrored in changes in familial relationships. Families debate who to tell, what to do next, what will happen if. Families try to cope in order to provide the individual with the necessary emotional support and hope to combat the fear that those three simple words instil.
To quote Dr. Barbara Whylie, chief executive officer of the Canadian Cancer Society, “Cancer wounds everyone in our society”.
The leading cause of premature death in Canada, cancer silences 68,000 Canadians each year, taking 950,000 years of potential life from families and loved ones. According to the Saskatchewan Cancer Control report in 2004, in my home province cancer claims the lives of 2,215 loved ones annually. Additionally, primarily due to an increase in lung cancer deaths, the number of cancer deaths per year among females has increased 39% since 1983. However it is about to get much worse.
According to Dr. Whylie, we are on the verge of an unprecedented cancer epidemic in Canada. Over the next three decades it is projected that nearly six million Canadians will hear the three simple words, “You have cancer”, and worse, half of them will die from it. We likely will intimately know someone or, indeed, even be one. How do we explain this increase?
First, as Canada's aging baby boomer population grows older so will the risk of getting cancer.
Second, as Canada's population expands there will be, as a consequence, more cases of cancer diagnosed. The financial cost of the impeding onslaught of cancer diagnosis, while secondary to the immense emotional strain for those affected, is, nevertheless, staggering.
In the next 30 years those three simple words will cost the public treasury nearly $176 billion in direct health care costs and more than $248 billion in lost tax revenue. Furthermore, it is estimated that during this period, Canada could potentially lose approximately $14 billion due to lost productivity from Canadians diagnosed with one of the most common cancers: lung, breast, prostrate and colorectal. Canada must act now and implement a strategy to prevent such a national tragedy.
The House should heed the advice of the World Health Organization and comply with the resolution passed this past May calling on all member states to work with WHO to develop and implement a comprehensive cancer control program. Such programs have the potential to save thousands of Canadians from the experience of hearing those three simple words.
Over the past decade countries, like Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have developed and funded national plans to combat cancer.
In 1985 the European Union launched an ambitious program entitled Europe Against Cancer, aiming to lower the number of deaths caused by cancer by 15% in the year 2000. The program was implemented with the cooperation of experts, cancer charities, health professionals and national civil servants, primarily focusing on the areas of prevention, screening and education.
Although this ambitious target was not met throughout the EU, a report published in the Annals of Oncology indicated a 10% reduction was achieved in cancer deaths in males and an 8% decrease among females.
Moreover, a handful of EU countries, such as Austria, Finland, Italy and Luxembourg, actually managed to reach or come very close to the 15% reduction goal.
However Canada lags shamefully behind other states with respect to creating a cancer control program. Dr. Whylie has stated:
Canada is one of the few nations in the developed world that has failed to implement a strategy for cancer control.
We are now paying for that failure with our very lives--
--the Canadian approach to cancer control is inconsistent, flawed and driven by political expediency rather than medical realities.
Cancer prevention in Canada is pathetically underfunded and fragmented.
All of this must change and must change soon.
It is imperative that the federal government provide leadership to implement and fund the Canadian strategy for cancer control. The strategy, a wide ranging and coordinated approach to cancer control in Canada, would make certain that we are prepared to meet the unprecedented cancer epidemic about to strike Canada.
The Canadian strategy for cancer control would be a national strategy aimed at bringing about a sustained, coordinated, comprehensive and collaborative approach required to combat the coming cancer epidemic.
Each province would be permitted to independently construct its own unique cancer care management system from a basis of national data and knowledge gathered from across the country and shared by all.
Timely and state of the art information regarding cancer would be accessible to all Canadians regardless of their location. Moreover, the strategy would decrease repetition, fill in gaps and ensure scarce resources are shared.
However the success of a national strategy is dependent upon the federal government advancing a coordinated and targeted approach to cancer care.
We must always be cognizant of the fact that this is a matter of life and death. Indeed, in the time that has elapsed since I commenced my remarks someone in Canada has succumbed to cancer and another two have heard those three simple words, “You have cancer”.