Colorectal cancer screening rates are improving in Canada, according to a new report on cancer outcomes.

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer released its fourth annual performance report on cancer control on Monday.

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The cancer system performance report looks at prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment. (Sam Panthanky/AFP/Getty)

An estimated 186,400 people were diagnosed with cancer this year and 75,700 died, making it the leading cause of death in the country, the group of cancer experts, government representatives, the Canadian Cancer Society, patients and  families  said.

The 200-page report compiles data on prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, research funding and patient satisfaction across the country.

The national average for the percentage of average risk Canadians who were up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening rose from 38 per cent in 2009 to 43 per cent in 2011, which is still not as high as provincial breast and cervical screening programs that are more established.

"Screening is always in the public eye," said Rami Rahal, the group's director of system performance.

"Between 2009 and 2011, we've had over 200,000 new people screened for cancer across the country for colorectal cancer, so we're seeing some good progress there." 

Over 9,000 people in Canada die from colorectal cancer each year, the third largest cancer killer. About 20 per cent of colorectal cancer cases are tumours of the rectum.

Rising cancer rates

This year's report also looks at cancers that data suggest are on the rise. Pancreatic cancer is the 12th most-diagnosed cancer in Canada, and it overtook prostate as the fourth-leading cause of cancer death this year, Rahal said.

Liver cancer has also been increasing in Canada, coinciding with higher rates of chronic infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Researchers are trying to understand the relationship between chronic hepatitis and liver cancer, Rahal said, noting the U.S. and Europe are reporting similar increases.  

The report also includes long-term outcomes for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, thyroid, liver, melanoma and head and neck cancers.

Provincial and territorial rates are compared for prevention measures like smoking quit rates, tanning bed use and uptake of school-based HPV vaccination programs.

In the area of diagnosis, provinces have shown progress on capturing staging data to guide and evaluate cancer control since 2007.

But no reporting province (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, B.C., Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta) achieved wait time targets for resolving an abnormal breast cancer screen in 2010, according to the report.

The report isn't meant to be a score card or report card, Rahal said. Rather, it points to best practices and local success stories that could be implemented elsewhere.

Previous examples include the introduction of telemedicine to improve follow-up in rural areas and the use of patient navigators  to support people with cancer who are dying at home, he said.

From 2005 to 2009, 70 per cent of people who died of cancer in Canada died in a hospital and 11 per cent were known to have died at home. In Europe, almost 50 per cent are able to die at home, which points to a benchmark worth striving for in Canada, Rahal suggested.

The report was funded by Health Canada.