Our health equity work

With 2 in 5 people in Canada expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, cancer has an impact on all of us. We also know that some people and communities are disproportionately affected by cancer. There are deep disparities in cancer risk, cancer care and cancer research, resulting in consequences that cannot be ignored. To address this problem, we need focused attention from governments, health partners and charitable organizations like ours. We must remove barriers and advance equity so that everyone can access the care, support and information they need.

Communities that are underserved in the context of health services are populations that face inadequate and disadvantaged access to healthcare due to various factors such as race, age, language, geography, gender identity, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. A person who is part of an underserved community may:

  • be more likely to be exposed to cancer risks
  • have problems getting the care or services they need
  • receive less care or a lower standard of care
  • get services or treatments that do not meet their needs
  • be less satisfied with services than the general population
  • have poorer outcomes during their cancer experience

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) acknowledges its responsibility to provide cancer information, support and practical services to these communities, as well as advocate for healthy public policy and fund research focused on advancing health equity.

Everyone needs and deserves to live, work and play in health-enhancing environments, to have equitable access to quality healthcare services, and to have safe and supportive cancer information and support following a cancer diagnosis. But not everyone receives it, let alone where, when or how they need it the most. We can change how we work in small and big ways. CCS is committed to supporting underserved communities that are impacted by cancer.

Serving communities better

We currently use “underserved communities” and “communities that are underserved” to highlight the need for systemic changes rather than solely focusing on the individual or community itself.

CCS currently has identified 10 communities that are underserved with 25+ sub-categories. They are not the only communities underserved by CCS or the healthcare system.

  • 2SLGBTQI+ communities
  • adolescents and young adults with cancer
  • advanced cancer
  • communities that don’t speak English or French
  • Indigenous communities
  • newcomers to Canada
  • older adults
  • racialized communities
  • rare cancers
  • rural and remote communities

These communities were originally identified out of our work to explore how to better meet the needs of communities that were underserved by our information and support services. We have begun work with these communities and will add more communities that are underserved over time. Of these 10 communities, some have unique needs when it comes to their cancer diagnosis, their age or life stage, the language they speak or where they live. Many of these communities face systemic racism, marginalization, discrimination and stigma. This impacts their overall health, not just their cancer diagnosis and experience. CCS has defined these underserved communities to identify specific support needs. But we recognize that people may identify with multiple communities and bring their unique experiences with them.

Diversity and intersectionality

It is essential to recognize that diversity exists within each community that is underserved. Diversity refers to the unique dimensions, qualities and characteristics that people possess. Not every person within an underserved community will face the same gaps, barriers and challenges regarding their cancer experience.

Applying an intersectionality lens is equally important. Intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, acknowledges that people's experiences are shaped by a combination of social factors, including gender, race, age and others. These experiences interact with systems and structures of power, such as sexism and racism. By understanding how different forms of inequality intersect and worsen each other, we can better address the needs of underserved communities.

Our vision for working with communities that are underserved (2022 to 2028)

Over the next 5 years, we will work collectively to reduce health inequities for communities that are underserved across the cancer control continuum by reducing barriers, increasing access, supporting communities through CCS offerings and advocating for systemic changes to health systems. These are our objectives:

  • Build and sustain a foundation that supports a health equity approach across mission and drives the generation of evidence, the collection of relevant data and best practices in engagement.
  • Develop and implement integrated mission strategies for communities that are underserved. This integrated approach includes working across our mission teams through research, advocacy, cancer statistics and data, information, programs and services.
  • Co-create community-specific program initiatives that are aligned with identified needs and CCS capabilities as strategic opportunities arise.

This work requires developing and building partnerships with communities that are underserved and organizations that work with them to understand their unmet needs and co-build solutions. It will be embedded in all of our work across teams and programs.

Guiding principles

In line with our organizational values, these guiding principles are embedded in our work with communities that are underserved and all of our mission work. Read more about each of these principles below.
Person-centred information and support programs strive to adapt to a person’s physical, emotional, spiritual and practical needs and recognize the person’s role in managing their own health and that we are a partner for them. A person-centred organization prioritizes the needs of the people it serves, over all other considerations, to the greatest extent possible.
Accessibility ensures people are aware of and can easily find and use the information and support they need. Accessible information products and services enable everyone to participate without barriers.
Equity recognizes that some communities and populations face unique barriers to accessing information and support services. An equitable organization works to reduce or eliminate such systemic barriers to access.
Information and support programs are measured and evaluated to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved.
Evidence-informed information and supports are based on the best available evidence, are comprehensive, relevant and accessible, and ensure people are objectively informed of potential benefits and limitations of health decisions.
Cultural competency strives to create an environment free of prejudice and discrimination. CCS strives to offer programs and services that are culturally sensitive, respectful, effective and safe for all clients.
Health literacy is the ability to find, understand, evaluate and use health information. A health literate organization makes it easier for people to navigate, understand and use information and services to take care of their health.

Advancing Health Equity Through Cancer Information and Support Services: Report on communities that are underserved

Our underserved communities report identifies communities that face barriers to accessing cancer information and support in order to understand gaps, barriers and challenges, and to outline opportunities and tactics to address them.

We thank the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer for its support and funding, which enabled CCS to undertake this innovative work.

Communities that are underserved

CCS currently has identified 10 communities for beginning our work in this area. Learn more about each of these communities and related CCS initiatives.

2SLGBTQI+ communities

2SLGBTQI+ is just one of many acronyms and words used to describe gender and sexual diversity. An estimated 1 million people in Canada are 2SLGBTQI+.

Adolescents and young adults with cancer

Cancer is different for people diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 39. Adolescents and young adults with cancer (AYAs) often have to pause their life plans. Approximately 50% of AYAs were off work or school for 1 to 3 years or longer after their cancer diagnosis.

Advanced cancer

Advanced cancer is a cancer that is unlikely to be cured and the focus of care shifts in physical, emotional and practical ways.

Communities that don't speak English or French

About 4.6 million Canadians predominantly speak a language other than English or French at home most of the time, and there are more than 324 languages being spoken in Canada.

Indigenous communities

As of 2021, the population of Indigenous peoples in Canada was about 1.8 million, equivalent to 5% of the Canadian population, and it is expected to reach between 2.5 million and 3.2 million over the next 20 years.

Newcomers to Canada

Since the 1990s the population of recent immigrants has been rapidly increasing in Canada and it is the largest contributor to population growth.

Older adults

Canada’s population of older adults is growing very quickly as Canadians live longer and healthier lives. By 2030, older adults are expected to make up 23% of people in Canada.

Racialized communities

In Canada, almost 10 million people are part of a racialized community, but we’ve only just started collecting data to understand how cancer and cancer care inequities affect them.

Rare cancers

Each rare cancer affects a small number of people in Canada, but together they make up about 20% of all new cancer cases in the country.

Rural and remote communities

Between 2016 and 2021, Canada’s rural and remote population increased by over 26,000 people.

Our work in action

Two people reading on a tablet

Inclusive Excellence Action Plan

The strongest research ecosystems are those that leverage the diversity of Canada’s population, incorporating diverse perspectives and experiences. This results in more innovative approaches, ideas and solutions that are more likely to produce outcomes that will impact all people living in Canada.
Award for excellence

CCS Award for Excellence – Inclusive Excellence Prize

The Inclusive Excellence Prize is given annually to someone who has demonstrated leadership and impact in the advancement of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility as it relates to the cancer research ecosystem in Canada.

CCS Health Equity Research Grants

The Health Equity Research Grants aim to advance a more accessible and inclusive cancer care system. Projects must be collaborative, co-created by people affected by both cancer and structural marginalization, and designed to address the systemic, structural and institutional factors that sustain health disparities in Canada.

Pan-Canadian Cancer Data Strategy

With the goal of improving cancer outcomes and making cancer care in Canada better and more equitable, the pan-Canadian Cancer Data Strategy outlines a framework to guide efforts to enhance the collection, integration and use of cancer data.
A daffodil shaped pin is held up in front of the Canadian parliament building

Equity through advocacy

CCS works with governments across Canada to implement proven healthy public policies that prevent cancer, expand access to treatment and provide supports and care. Intentional advocacy advances health equity for those living with cancer and their caregivers, whoever and wherever they may be.