Calgary

Calgary conference addresses large gap in First Nations cancer care

Health officials, researchers and Indigenous leaders are meeting in Calgary this week to discuss ways to improve access to oncology care to Indigenous people.

'We have a lot of work to do as care providers to help our First Nations patients feel safe'

First Nations people often experience a delay in cancer diagnosis, which can lead to fewer treatment options and higher death rates. (John Rieti/CBC)

Cancer care experts say there is a large gap in how cancer care is delivered to First Nations communities in Canada.

Pam Tobin, the director of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis Cancer Control Strategy says that gap is mainly due to access and lack of culturally appropriate services.

"It will take a long time to see a change, but we have to start somewhere," she said.

According to a recent study, First Nation adults in Canada have a much poorer five-year survival rate from cancer than non-Indigenous people.

Health officials, researchers and Indigenous leaders are meeting in Calgary this week to discuss ways to improve access to oncology care for Indigenous people.

Dr. Angeline Letendre (right) and Pam Tobin (left) are among two of a group of health officials, researchers and Indigenous leaders meeting in Calgary this week to share challenges and experiences in dealing with cancer care in First Nations communities. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Tobin's group has been working with Indigenous communities across the country for three years to raise awareness about the need for cancer screening and to develop culturally sensitive services.

Delay in diagnosis leads to problems

Dr. Angeline Letendre, the lead scientist with the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund, is helping to lead the charge on that effort in Alberta. She says First Nations people often experience a delay in diagnosis, which can lead to fewer treatment options and higher death rates.

"Sometimes it is a lack of awareness about the disease and prevention and screening," she said. "I think sometimes it's also the cultural competency and the safety of the care providers."

"We have a lot of work to do as care providers to help our First Nations patients feel safe."

A pilot project is underway in three Alberta communities in an effort to develop formal cancer prevention and screening programs.​

With files from Jennifer Lee