Op Ed - Optimism in the fight for life

Byline: Barbara Kaminsky, CEO, Canadian Cancer Society, BC & Yukon

VANCOUVER, Dec. 16, 2013 /CNW/ - The impact of cancer continues to be enormous. In 2013 in British Columbia alone, an estimated 23,700 new cancer cases were diagnosed and 9,700 people died of this horrible disease. Numbers like that can seem daunting but in looking ahead to 2014, I have never been more confident that significant, life-saving progress is on the horizon.

The Canadian Cancer Society has long advocated for an emphasis on cancer prevention. We know about half of all cancers can be prevented and we believe this is where our collective strength lies in changing cancer forever. Through 2013 we worked hard to bring key stakeholders, government partners and national bench-strength to this fight for life. Now, as we enter 2014, we have a team of people who are committed to stopping cancer before it starts and we are rolling out plans to become world leaders in this arena. It is an extremely exciting time.

Simultaneously, we are making strides in advocating with communities so that healthier choices become easier choices for everyone. We continue to challenge the government on issues that matter. One recent example is the strides the Society has made across the country against candy and fruit-flavoured tobacco products. We know these products are gateway products for youth, enticing them to start smoking and eventually becoming addicted. Tobacco companies need new consumers in order to support their dying industry and youth have become the target. Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable deaths and cancer deaths in BC and Canada and is the only legal product that kills one out of every two people when used as intended. We're proud that our advocacy efforts have played a part in the Alberta and Ontario governments recently announcing an upcoming ban on flavoured tobacco products. We will continue to urge the BC government to follow suit in 2014.

The Canadian Cancer Society is also deeply committed to funding leading-edge research projects in BC and across the country. Currently there are 48 projects underway in BC, representing a more than $20 million investment in innovative and impactful research. For example, Dr Colin Collins at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre is developing a sophisticated computer program to view gene interaction in advanced prostate cancer. His work will be crucial to identifying the underlying cause of this treatment-resistant form of cancer. And, Dr Artem Cherkasov at the University of British Columbia, is working on opening up brand new avenues of cancer treatment by developing new anticancer drugs to treat hormone resistant prostate and breast cancer.

And finally, as courageous individuals fought for their lives in 2013, they sought and received compassionate support and trusted information from the Society. Because of the generosity of our donors, our toll-free Cancer Information Service, and our peer support program CancerConnection served more than 7,400 people in BC alone. We welcomed several dozens of children and their families to Camp Goodtimes. We drove hundreds of cancer fighters to their treatment appointments. And thousands stayed at one of our four lodges while undergoing treatment. Our new lodge in Prince George has allowed us to serve more people in the north of BC. As we look ahead to 2014, we will continue to provide those crucial services and others.

In British Columbia, we have reason to celebrate. After all, we continue to have the lowest overall cancer rates in the country; however, if nothing changes, in the next 20 years the number of new cancer cases will increase by approximately 70 per cent due to the growth of our aging population. Prevention is our game changer. The number of people diagnosed with and dying from cancer can and must be reduced. And if we take action, our efforts will not only lead to a reduction in cancer rates but will also decrease rates of other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. But we have to collectively keep up the momentum.

I am a believer of entering every New Year with optimism and resolve. Let's continue to fight for life, reduce the impact of cancer and other diseases, and work together toward the day when no one will hear the words "you have cancer."

SOURCE Canadian Cancer Society (BC and Yukon Division)