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Cancer rates increase with aging population
GNWT focusing on prevention, says chief medical officer

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Thursday, June 4, 2015

The territory is "behind the eight ball" in addressing what the Canadian Cancer Society is projecting to be an increase in future cancer cases, according to one MLA.

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Shane Bleakney, Leesha Setzer and Jacob Israel are all members of the Inuvik Karate Club. They were on hand for the season-ending wrap-up at the Midnight Sun Recreation Centre May 27. - Shawn Giilck/NNSL photo

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said the GNWT has been aware of the territory's aging population since the 16th legislative assembly, but new statistics connecting this trend with increasing cases of cancer puts pressure on the government to renew healthcare campaigns and improve territorial care facilities.

"I think definitely there's some catch-up to do," said Bromley.

Bromley pointed to the death of former NWT premier George Braden from cancer last month as a signal that NWT communities need to put the issue front and centre. This urgency is validated by a new study released by the Public Health Agency of Canada that predicts cancer rates in the territory will increase as the population ages.

Fernanda Martins, relationship development co-ordinator for the Canadian Cancer Society, said the report projects cancer rates from 2028 to 2035; boiling down to an increase in reported cancer.

Cancer cases could increase by as much as 60 per cent in the three territories and Alberta by 2030, the report states, which Martins correlates to the increase in the number of people 65 years old and above - now sitting at nine per cent of the territorial population and projected to increase to 19 per cent by 2030.

"Cancer is a disease of aging. The territories have a young population right now," said Martins. "Come 2030, the high number of young people we have now are going to be that much older. And when you're older, that's when cancer usually gets diagnosed."

Martins said the GNWT could be doing a lot more to prepare for the increasing number of cases.

"Especially with regard to prevention," she said. "The main thing we're focusing on is having the government get on board with having a comprehensive tobacco reduction strategy."

The GNWT had a tobacco reduction strategy in 2002, but that has not since been revived, she said.

"So we're calling on the government to put a strategy in place to prevent young people from starting to smoke. We want to include measures to protect people from second hand smoke and we want to create conditions to encourage people to quit," she said.

Bromley said the previous government started working on an anti-smoking strategy with its Don't be a Butthead campaign and said it was time to bring that back.

Prevention is an important focus of the GNWT, said Andre Corriveau, chief medical officer of health for the Department of Health and Social Services.

Cancers take around 25 years to develop, Corriveau said, and if smoking and obesity rates can be reduced then many cases can be prevented. He said the territory is trying to increase the number of people who come in to be screened for colorectal cancer in particular, as it's the most prevalent cancer in the territory - only 25 per cent of people between the ages of 50 and 60 who should have regular screenings are actually getting checked out.

"We're going to spend a lot of effort promoting that particular one," he said. "We're finding that NWT cases are being found later than the Canadian average."

Thinking ahead to cancer needs

At Stanton Territorial Hospital - where renovations will include an expansion to the ambulatory-care ward in which chemotherapy is administered - Bromley said the increasing cancer rates need to be a consideration.

"The intent is to complete the renovations over a five-year-period starting this (summer), and it will be done one ward at a time," said Bromley, adding he hopes the ambulatory-care ward will be prioritized.

Corriveau said the ambulatory care division is identified as an area likely to be prioritized but there are other focuses, such as chronic diseases and dialysis cases where increased demand is also anticipated.

The pace of the renewal project, he said, cannot be sped up.

"The Stanton renewal project has been planned for sometime already," he said. "We can't go faster than it is right now, to be honest."

Martins warned that any delay in completing the renovations will mean complications for people needing treatment.

"I know the Stanton Territorial fundraising organization said they were already above capacity with their current chemo unit," said Martins.

"People are entitled to the cancer care they deserve."

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