This year, 202,400 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer, a study from the Canadian Cancer Society predicts.

Half (50.4 per cent) of the diagnoses will be lung, bronchus, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers, and men (45 per cent) are slightly more likely to be diagnosed than women (42 per cent).

Between 1987 and 2015, the number of new cancer diagnoses rose steadily, the report says, but it notes that’s largely due to Canada’s aging population, rather than an increased risk for cancer across the board. And for some cancers, such as thyroid cancer, the increase in cases is tied to more advanced detection techniques.

It’s important that employers include new and innovative cancer medications in their drug plans, says Kathy Sotikaros, senior manager of market access at Amgen Canada. “A lot of [new drugs] aren’t on the plans and that’s where people have to use their Visa, change their mortgage in order to buy medications.”

Read: Editorial: Employees with cancer need your support

Employers should also include psychosocial assistance for staff with cancer, such as counselling, she says. And employers don’t have to confine themselves to internal programs. Linking employees to support networks that offer financial advice and social programs for patients and their families can be very helpful, she says.

The survey also noted 89 per cent of new diagnoses will be for Canadians over 50, with the median age of diagnosis between 65 and 69.

Most government disability benefits end when an employee reaches 65, says Pamela Bowes, manager of money matters and workplace programs at the cancer support network Wellspring. The exception is employment insurance sick leave, which is extended to any employee who has contributed to the program in the past year. So if an employee over 65 is diagnosed with cancer, an employer may need to think creatively in terms of supporting them.

Bowes also notes 62 per cent of working people diagnosed with cancer do return to work. In addition to access to drug benefits and flexibility, it’s important for employers to create a supportive workplace.

“We’ve heard stories of people where they’ve gone back and they’ve been mistreated in a sense because someone had to pick up their job while they were off dealing with cancer and so the workplace may be a little more hostile,” she says.

Read: How to support working caregivers

On the flip side, Bowes heard of an employer who gave all other staff paid time off to support the employee with cancer. “Her employer designated an employee to be given time off work to drive her to her appointment,” she says. “And they rotated it so that every coworker had a time when they were given time off to pick her up, take her there, stay with her and drive her home… It’s not a workplace benefit but it’s a workplace mindset towards supporting someone who’s had cancer.”

Regionally, cancer rates are higher in Canada’s eastern provinces than western ones, according to the report. It estimates that British Columbia, for example, will see 476.2 new diagnoses per 100,000 people, while the rate jumps to 610.7 diagnoses in Newfoundland and Labrador. This difference can be attributed to changes in diet, smoking, inactivity and other modifiable risk factors.


Image via Canadian Cancer Society

In terms of mortality, the study predicts 78,000 Canadians will die of cancer this year. Men are more likely to be affected than woman (29 per cent lifetime chance of dying of cancer versus 24 per cent).

The report also found the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women is lung cancer, which is estimated to kill more Canadians (20,800) than colorectal, breast and pancreatic cancers combined (19,000) by the end of 2016.

Read: Canadians work less after spouses diagnosed with cancer: study

Mortality rates for all cancers combined have been declining since they peaked in 1988, according to the study. Many avoided deaths were related to lung and breast cancer, which is tied to a drop in smoking, more breast cancer screening and advancing breast cancer treatments.

Again, mortality rates are higher in the east than in the west. British Columbia will see 182.6 cancer deaths this year, while Newfoundland and Labrador will see 228.7. These regional differences can be attributed to varying risk factors, including socioeconomic level, the availability of screening centres, and access to treatment.

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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