The Canadian Cancer Society will today begin charging a $100 registration fee to transport cancer patients to and from treatment, a change they say reflects the growing demand for the service.

For more than 60 years, volunteers with the community-based organization have been transporting people in need of cancer treatment to specialized hospitals or chemotherapy clinics.

Volunteers are reimbursed for expenses, but the expenses have been going up as demand rises.
Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital is looking at different ways to reduce the cost for people who need to access specialized treatment at their cancer centre. (Google Streetview)

An aging population and more effective treatments that extend the life of cancer patients has led to increased demand for the service, according to Tracy Nixon, who co-ordinates cancer transport in Ontario for the Canadian Cancer Society.

"We had 13,000 people use it the year before last and then last year we had 15,500. So we are seeing about a 20-per-cent increase and we're trending again towards that increase this year," said Nixon.

"The numbers show exactly what we thought they would show, that we would see more diagnoses of cancer, and people are living longer with cancer," she said.

Nixon said there would be help for patients who can’t afford the fee and that no one will be left at home because they can't pay.

As well, anyone already enrolled in the driving program now won't be asked to pay for the service. But new registrants will pay the $100 fee.

Tele-health among strategies to reduce need for travel

Hospitals are also attempting to reduce the need for patients to travel, according to Cathy DeGrasse with The Ottawa Hospital's cancer centre.

DeGrasse said The Ottawa Hospital has expanded its chain of chemotherapy centres and increased the range of treatments available at those centres.

And it's working with patients to try to schedule multiple appointments for a single patient all on the same day to reduce travel time, or to eliminate the need for a far-away visit altogether.

"We've started to use Tele-health visits where patients can actually have a visit with a physician and nurse in the cancer centre, but actually only have to travel to their local hospital and that whole visit is done remotely. That certainly has been beneficial, particularly for patients who are at the palliative stage," she said.