Times Colonist

Breast cancer help unequal across Canada

- ARIELLE GODBOUT

Access to breast cancer treatment is unequal across the country, according to a new study on wait times to be released today by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.

The study found that patients in British Columbia face the shortest waits for treatment, closely followed by women in Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

Saskatchew­an and Ontario fared least well in the study, but network president Diana Ermel cautioned that some provinces don’t have available data on wait times, so it’s impossible to make exact comparison­s.

Ermel, a cancer survivor who underwent her surgery 15 years ago today, waited only three business days for her mammogram and less than a week for surgery after she was diagnosed.

“I had a very fast journey,” she said. “This does not happen today.” Ermel said she has seen wait times worsen in the past 15 years.

“I don’t know what has happened, I really don’t,” Ermel said. “I truly have difficulty getting a grip on it.”

Part of the problem affecting wait times is a lack of national benchmarks for surgery and chemothera­py wait times, she said, leaving each government to set its own standards for providing timely treatment.

A national benchmark of four weeks was designated for radiation therapy wait times in 2004, but according to the study, only half of the government­s with available data are achieving that goal.

“Experts have set that benchmark, so that’s what we need to aim for,” Ermel said.

She said the patients who face the longest wait times live in rural areas and often have to travel to see an oncologist.

“For people who live in an urban centre, access to the different services and programs they need throughout the journey are much more readily available.”

Fifty per cent of patients in Yukon leave the territory for chemothera­py, while radiation therapy is not offered at all. Nunavut does not offer screening, though it reports the lowest rate of breast cancer in Canada.

The study also identifies services that are working successful­ly, such as the B.C. Fast Track screening and diagnosis program, which has been successful in reducing wait times.

The network’s study was compiled using provincial and territoria­l online databases. Four categories of wait times were measured: the time between an abnormal mammogram and diagnosis; the wait between diagnosis and surgery; the wait for radiation therapy; and the wait for chemothera­py.

The network’s findings are to be presented today during the Fifth Annual World Conference on Breast Cancer in Winnipeg.

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