02/03/2015 05:32 EST | Updated 04/05/2015 05:59 EDT

Faced With Cancer? Canada's a Good Place to Be

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On World Cancer Day, Feb. 4, is a logical time to ask ourselves what we're doing in Canada to reduce the burden of cancer.

Cancer affects an estimated two in every five Canadians and costs governments approximately $6 billion annually in healthcare expenditures.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 191,300 new cases of cancer and 76,600 deaths from cancer will occur in Canada in 2014. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and is responsible for 30 per cent of all deaths.

But we are fortunate. Canada is one of only a handful of countries around the world implementing a robust national cancer control strategy.

Canada's cancer strategy relies on collaboration amongst provincial and territorial cancer agencies, cancer charities, patients and caregivers, researchers, clinicians and governments to accelerate action on emerging evidence.

How is it making a difference?

When U.S. researchers found in 2013 that screening via low-dose CT scan could help reduce lung cancer-related deaths in high-risk populations, the partnership moved quickly to assemble pan-Canadian experts to assess the evidence.

The resulting development of the Lung Cancer Screening Framework for Canada provides guidance to provinces considering lung cancer screening programs for high-risk populations, and offers the evidence needed to limit the impact of opportunistic screening.

This rapid response is a radical improvement. The country's first cervical screening program was established in British Columbia in 1960, and it is only now in 2015 -- more than 50 years later -- that we expect nine provinces to have cervical screening programs in place. Similarly, it took 10 years between 1988 and 1998 for breast cancer screening programs to be fully implemented in all provinces.

With the support of the Partnership's coordinated approach, all 10 provinces offered colorectal cancer screening in 2010, only three years after key players were drawn together to create population-based screening programs.

This type of system-level change can feel very removed from the everyday struggles faced by individuals family, friends and caregivers who are living with a diagnosis. But they are exactly the kind of changes that Canadians value.

We know this because a recent national poll commissioned by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer found 94 per cent of Canadians support a national plan that helps reduce the incidence of cancer, lessens the likelihood of Canadians dying from cancer and enhances the quality of life for those affected by cancer.

Since the strategy came into effect in 2007, more than 300,000 Canadians have volunteered to be part of the country's largest-ever population health cohort, which could unlock the mystery as to why some people get cancer while others do not.

A dozen research funders and institutions have also come together to form the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network, which aims to increase the number of cutting-edge clinical trials available to patients and to boost overall participation.

The Partnership has also developed a cancer risk management model to help decision-makers estimate the long‐term impact of program and policy changes for specific cancer types, looking at how greater uptake in smoking cessation programs, for example, could affect the country's overall cancer incidence rate.

With support from the federal government and commitment from partners across multiple jurisdictions, the country's only disease-specific health strategy is delivering results to Canadians and driving health system change. And the results are beginning to show: provinces and territories are working better together to avoid duplication and adopt best practices.

Canada's success with a national cancer strategy has demonstrated that working together can help fill gaps, expand services and embed innovative solutions for the future.

A national plan is ultimately bringing us closer to a future where fewer Canadians are diagnosed with cancer and more Canadians survive.

Together, we are stronger than one.