New Canadian Cancer Society research grants seek a more equitable cancer system

 Banner that reads “health equity research grants” with a doctor speaking to a patient

When cancer is found early, it is often easier to treat. But for Red River Métis people living in remote and northern areas of Manitoba, getting tested for cancer can be challenging. They are faced with several barriers to accessing health services, like the high cost of travelling long distances, or unsafe and insufficient roads. These factors can lead to their cancer being found at a later stage, which can contribute to poorer outcomes

“A cancer diagnosis is tough,” says Alex, a Red River Métis citizen with cancer who experienced difficulties accessing health services. “Add the challenge of getting medical tests, seeing cancer doctors, getting a diagnosis and receiving treatment when you live in northern or rural Manitoba is even tougher.”

Cancer can affect anyone, but not everyone has the same experience. The lack of easy-to-access screening is just one of many alarming health inequities. There are many non-medical factors such as employment, education, location, gender and race that can affect a person’s health and cancer outcomes. Experiences of discrimination, racism and historical trauma can also impact health.

This is why the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) recently launched the inaugural CCS Health Equity Research Grants, which aim to reduce cancer-related health inequities and improve outcomes. Thanks to the generosity of donors, CCS is investing $1.6 million in 6 promising projects that bring together researchers, decision-makers and people affected by both cancer and health inequities to identify and test solutions that minimize or remove barriers to equitable cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

One of these projects will examine the link between distance to care and cancer stage at diagnosis for Red River Métis people in rural Manitoba, where cancer is the leading cause of death. The project team, led by Dr Julianne Sanguins in partnership with the Manitoba Métis Federation, citizens, Elders and people with cancer experience, uses data analytics and mapping tools to identify where screening services are currently available. The goal is to use this information to help create programs and pinpoint policy changes that could address barriers to screening and, as a result, save lives.

“With the support of the Canadian Cancer Society, we can begin to make progress toward increasing access to screening and treatment for Métis citizens,” Sanguins said. “Ultimately, we want to increase access to all cancer services for Red River Métis."

Each of the 6 funded projects focuses on an identified health equity need for a specific group, including improved access to breast cancer screening for refugee women in New Brunswick, addressing language barriers for people with cancer who are not fluent in English or French, reducing cancer inequities for people living in Vancouver, removing barriers to high-quality prostate cancer care for Black men in Canada, and improving equity and wellness for people with advanced cancer of Latin American and African descent.

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