Growing wait times for cancer treatment are a matter of life and death

Cancer care crisis

Cancer is a ticking time bomb.

Specialists are warning about the tsunami of cancer that is about to ensue. They are also warning they are seeing later stage cancers in greater numbers and sounding the alarm bell that the list of those waiting to get into see a specialist is now in the millions.

Is it really that serious? It is.

The difference between life and death for cancer patients can be the time it takes for diagnosis and treatment. In a 2020 British Medical Journal article, it was shown that for every week of delay after diagnosis, survival is shortened by 1.2 to 3.2% per week of delay.

Imagine waiting three months. That is what British Columbians are doing right now. They are waiting months for treatment, which is why our outcomes are getting worse and our wait lists longer.

I have spoken to constituents who are being given these wait times. One patient was given six months to live if not treated, and then told that the first meeting with a specialist was going to be three months away.

A woman in her 40s waited months for “minor” surgery to remove cancerous tissue in her cervix, only to have it grow and need a full hysterectomy. Another, was told she had to wait two months for radiation.

We need better cancer care. B.C. is experiencing the longest waits in Canada and that is unacceptable.

What can be done? We need system-wide changes, not about tweaking the edges or giving minor amounts of money. This is about radical overhaul.

B.C. Cancer delivered a 10-year cancer plan, but it has yet to be accepted or funded. Meanwhile, people die on waiting lists.

Our oncologists are burning out because of the lack of resources and massive underfunding. A study recently done shows B.C. is the worst for burnout in Canada.

The same study showed (doctors) are not being consulted enough on policy decisions.

While the health minister has talked about of new positions being funded, 18 oncologists have left B.C. because of the working conditions.

We aren’t supporting our B.C. Cancer medical team.

Things also have to change with the B.C. Cancer leadership structure and how cancer treatment administered. We need proactive, funded, predictive planning that will accommodate the capacity necessary to treat cancer.

The health minister was asked repeatedly about this, and his answer is (the government) might have one. But it is not public.

Clearly this is not working. B.C. has fallen from first place in cancer outcomes in Canada to last place in wait times (the longest) in Canada, according the the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

What we can’t see in their numbers are the layered effects of waiting—waiting to see a family doctor, waiting for imaging studies, waiting for a biopsy booking, waiting for results to be reported, waiting to see an oncologist for consultation and waiting to have treatment once a decision has been made to treat.

Last week in Question Period, (Liberals) stood up and asked the question, why are British Columbians at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to outcomes and waiting?

This has to stop.

My question to you this week is this:

How much priority should be given to cancer treatment in our healthcare spending?

I love hearing from you. Email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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