Cancer Awareness Month A Time To Recognize Caregivers
With Cancer Awareness Month underway, I would like to take the opportunity to thank those Nova Scotians who take care of patients suffering from the effects of cancer.
Regrettably, cancer touches almost everyone in Nova Scotia - a family member, a neighbour, a friend or a colleague. The statistics found in Understanding Cancer in Nova Scotia, complied by our dedicated partners at Cancer Care Nova Scotia, confirm the high prevalence rates in our province. About one in 34 Nova Scotians are living with invasive cancer, and we expect the incidence to rise substantially as baby boomers age.
For that reason, your government is working closely with clinicians and cancer support agencies to invest more time and energy to ease the burden of cancer on Nova Scotia families.
We can do our part by investing in this priority area and making policy decisions to prevent certain cancers. That's why we have made several important funding decisions recently that I believe will assist those who are treating patients.
Certainly the most historic step our government took was to set a Wait Time Guarantee for those patients needing radiation therapy now, and in the future. About half of the people who are diagnosed with cancer require radiation, so it's a service we know will have to increase in the years ahead.
Some people have tried to downplay the significance by saying it is too slow or doesn't go far enough. That's a very narrow view of what is a significant policy shift in this province that will help thousands of people in the years ahead, not just today's patients.
The Wait Time Guarantee pledges that everyone must get radiation treatment within eight weeks of being referred, or be given another option by 2010. This is the absolute minimum I will accept. Ideally, I want all patients to receive treatment within four weeks of referral as we strive to meet the national benchmark set by provincial health ministers in 2005.
Our new agreement with the federal government, the first of its kind in Canada, will mean that we now have $24.2 million to invest in radiation equipment like new linear accelerator machines that are used to give patients treatment.
Tapping into this money is good planning and it also gives Nova Scotia some of the additional resources we need to make the national benchmark as fast as we can.
We've also made other new investments in cancer that will benefit Nova Scotians. Your government approved funding for three more medical oncologists in the province. We have just given $1 million to start a new medical oncology satellite in Kentville and to expand satellite medical oncology services for patients living in Inverness, Antigonish, New Glasgow and Yarmouth. This will help make it easier for rural patients to receive care closer to home and cut down the number of visits they will have to make to our provincial cancer centres in Halifax and Sydney.
Having met with several cancer patients in the past few months, I can only imagine what a stressful time it is for them.
That's why your government must also invest health dollars to prevent cancer.
There was promising news in Understanding Cancer in Nova Scotia. We know we are seeing some gains by screening for breast cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. Incidents have declined 13.5 per cent since 1998.
I believe that we can repeat that success. In our budget introduced last month, we committed $300,000 to start working on a population-based colorectal cancer screening program for Nova Scotians ages 50 to 74. We have the second highest rate of colorectal cancers diagnosed in the country with about 750 Nova Scotians diagnosed each year. We've accepted advice from Cancer Care Nova Scotia and, this fall, will recruit a leader to start the complex endeavour of building a program for patients in conjunction with our district health authorities.
I am confident as we devote more focus and energy to cancer that there are many reasons to be optimistic.