Saving lives by improving cancer care delivery

The importance of cancer care delivery

It’s not enough to show that a new technique or drug is effective. For these life-saving interventions to reach the people who need them, hospitals and governments have to adopt them and make them available.

Research on cancer care delivery focuses not on how well a specific treatment works, but on how well our healthcare system is functioning to deliver treatments and care that meet the needs of people with cancer. This includes addressing questions of equity, access, costs and benefits, all with the goal of providing the best possible care to as many people as possible.

From a clinical tool to standardize post-surgery care for people with pancreatic cancer to studies that address the unique needs of Indigenous and racialized communities, research supported by CCS has laid the groundwork for making cancer care more equitable and accessible for all.

Research like this ensures that people with cancer can receive the best care possible, no matter where and who they are. Here are some other areas in which our funded researchers have had an impact on enhancing our cancer care systems:

Increasing access to cancer screening

While organized cancer screening programs exist in every province, not everyone has equal access to these programs. Some people, especially those from underserved and marginalized communities, face additional barriers that hinder their participation in these screening programs. Barriers can include language and cultural challenges, stigma and difficulties in physically accessing these services. As a result, their cancers may be diagnosed at more advanced stages, leading to worse outcomes.

CCS-funded researchers have been working to bridge this gap by identifying and addressing the barriers these groups face and by expanding cancer screening programs so that more cancers are caught earlier and treated successfully.

  • Dr Cornelia Baines and Dr Anthony Miller led the National Breast Screening Study which followed nearly 90,000 Canadian women to understand the role of screening mammography and breast examination in the early detection of breast cancer. By providing clear evidence on the benefits of screening, the study influenced public policy around the implementation of breast cancer screening programs in Canada and other countries, helping more people gain access to these lifesaving services.
  • Dr Aisha Lofters’s research found that women born in Muslim-majority countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, are less likely to get screened for cervical cancer. She and her team then identified strategies that could encourage these women to participate in screening programs, such as using a health educator who is from the same ethnic group. In a related project, Dr Lofters found that women with severe disabilities were less likely to take part in breast cancer screening, highlighting the need for tailored strategies to reach this group.
  • Dr Sonya Cressman and Dr Stuart Peacock of the CCS-funded Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control led a study that demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of risk-based lung cancer screening. Because there are no organized screening programs for lung cancer and early symptoms are often unnoticeable, lung cancer is frequently diagnosed at a late stage when it is more difficult to treat. Their work contributed to the British Columbia government’s 2020 decision to launch the first organized lung cancer screening program in Canada, which could pave the way for similar programs and save lives across the country.

Improving the health of Indigenous peoples

In the first Canadian study of its kind, CCS-funded researcher Dr Anna Chiarelli and her team found that Indigenous women are at an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage when the disease is more difficult to treat. For Indigenous women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, the researchers showed that they have a 3 to 5 times lower survival rate compared to non-Indigenous people.

These results highlight the stark disparities in cancer-related health outcomes among Indigenous communities and the tremendous amount of work needed to advance health equity. That’s why we support research focused on tackling these challenges using community-based approaches that partner with Indigenous peoples.

  • To better understand Indigenous women's unique cancer experiences, Dr Roanne Thomas and her team used interviews, story-sharing activities, and visual arts to directly engage with Indigenous cancer survivors and their caregivers. Their work identified key areas that need to be addressed in developing culturally appropriate cancer care for Indigenous people, helping them live longer, fuller lives.
  • Working with women in northern Indigenous communities, Dr Bruce Minore explored the reasons why they had lower screening rates, leading to breast cancers diagnosed at later stages when treatment is more challenging. This research drew attention to gaps in the healthcare system and identified opportunities for improving the health of women living in these communities.
  • Recognizing the lower screening rates among Indigenous people in the Northwest Territories, Dr Sangita Sharma and her team created a series of culturally appropriate videos about cancer and cancer screening services. These videos were developed in consultation with local communities to address the unique barriers they faced and included local community members sharing their stories. The video series focuses on screening for breast, colorectal and cervical cancers and is available to communities, healthcare centres and professionals across the Northwest Territories, helping more people access vital, lifesaving cancer screening programs.