A modern cancer plan to reduce care inequities

By Cynthia Morton

Two years ago, I was approached by an organization called the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer asking me to join as CEO. I was six months past a challenging two and a half years of intense cancer treatment including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

My recovery was difficult, and I was ready to take on another leadership role. The Partnership was one I knew would inspire me personally and professionally. I know firsthand the toll cancer takes on patients, their family and friends. As a patient, I benefitted from the many strengths of Canada’s cancer system. I was treated blocks away from where I live and work, and I received regular care from a knowledgeable family physician. This is not the cancer story for all Canadians.

As we consulted with people across the country last year on the creation of a modernized cancer control strategy, I was struck by the affirmation of a shared view that it should not matter where you live in Canada or how much money you make, we are all entitled to accessible, quality cancer care. This is a fundamental belief of Canadians and distinguishes us as a nation in a profound way resulting from our health system being grounded in a value of universal health care. The challenge is that while people in certain parts of the country have cancer care like mine, many do not. The reality is that where you live and other factors like employment can be a matter of life and death when it comes to cancer, and as a country we can and must do better.


In June my organization released the 2019 Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control for the next decade. This is Canada’s cancer plan which provides a focused set of priorities and actions that we’ve shaped with our many partners to combat the complexity and overwhelming impact of cancer. My organization is the steward of the Strategy and at the request of the federal government, we engaged over 7,500 Canadians, healthcare providers and cancer care leaders to help in modernizing this plan, ensuring that it provides concrete, shared direction supported by provinces and territories, to address the challenges in delivering quality cancer care to people in all parts of the country.

Importantly, the modernized Strategy also contains priorities to solve barriers faced by First Nations, Inuit and Métis in accessing timely and culturally appropriate cancer care. Indigenous peoples in Canada continue to experience poorer cancer outcomes than the rest of the population, and the Strategy offers solutions developed with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, governments, elders and organizations. Through the development of this Strategy with our many partners, we have explored the depth of inequities that exist in cancer services across the country and actions we must take to address these. We must learn from the best so all in Canada can benefit from what is working, while keeping an eye on the financial viability of new approaches to delivering cancer care. We must push for more patient-centric care learning more about who our patients are, and what they value or fear, when discussing cancer with their doctor, and acknowledging and addressing the presence of cultural incompetency in cancer care for certain groups. We must embrace innovation and use technology to better connect with remotely located patients who will otherwise face hours, if not days, of painful and disruptive travel to get the care they need.

We have many willing partners in the cancer community across Canada who are up to the task and ask that healthcare providers and leaders who we haven’t engaged with, take note of the priorities and calls to action in the Strategy, and work with us and others to make change happen. We ask that all Canadians look for ways to get involved with their local cancer organizations, and read the 2019 Strategy at www.cancerstrategy.ca. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in two Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. I’m part of this statistic and believe that together we can use this cancer plan to guide efforts in getting high-quality cancer services and improved cancer prevention knowledge to every corner of the country in the next 10 years.

Cynthia Morton is the CEO of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer