Health-care system faces 'huge strain' from expected spike in cancer cases

A new government report projects the number of cancer cases in New Brunswick will increase significantly by 2030, putting further strain on an already stretched health-care system.

New provincial cancer report shows lung cancer the number one killer

A new report on cancer in New Brunswick projects the number of diagnosed cases will increase significantly by 2030.

A new government report projects the number of cancer cases in New Brunswick will increase significantly by 2030, putting further strain on an already stretched health-care system.

The New Brunswick Cancer Network has issued its fourth report on the subject — this one called Cancer in New Brunswick 2007-2013 — that details recent cancer trends and the provincial outlook.

The outlook suggests the number of diagnosed cases will jump by 50 per cent by 2030 from 2013.

"That's going to put a huge strain on the health system," said Dr. Eshwar Kumar, a practising oncologist and medical adviser for the network.

"Right now, I would say, our system is stretched and strained, and I think we need to be prepared for this and look at different ways of delivering the service that the population and patients need."

Kumar said the province has made strides in reducing mortality rates, which dipped gradually from 2007 to 2013, through improved screening programs, stronger prevention methods and better treatments.

The incidence rate, the number of new diagnosed cases, is projected to rise based on current trends. An average of 4,588 new cancers and 1,833 deaths were recorded each year between 2007 and 2013.

The number of new invasive cancers is expected to reach 7,128 by 2030, according to the report.

An aging population is the main factor behind the projection, Kumar said, but other factors include better cancer detection, growth in population and exposure to potential risk factors.

"Our hope is that we'll see a change in the trend over the next little while," he said.

Being proactive

Kumar said the public can help change the trend with some lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, reducing obesity and getting moderate exercise.

"These are things that can be modified," he said.

On the health-care side, Kumar said it's important for providers and decision-makers to understand what they're facing,  and the current model won't serve as well in the future.

He said the province should continue to strengthen its screening systems and smoking cessation campaigns as well as other education and awareness programs.

Dr. Eshwar Kumar of the New Brunswick Cancer Network says the projected rise in cancer cases can be influenced by proactive choices by the public and health-care providers. (CBC)

Shifting to a more collaborative practice model for cancer care would ease the strain on the system by shifting some of the burden to other medical professionals. The current model, he said, relies on the availability of oncologists when other health-care workers can assume some of the responsibility along the chain of care.

The province has expanded its screening programs for colon, cervical and breast cancers, Kumar said, but an improved lung cancer screening program is important to manage the expected spike in cases.

Doctors are watching a pilot program underway in Ontario as a potential model to introduce in the province, he said.

"That's probably the one other screening program that we, as a province, should consider planning and implementing over the next three to five years," Kumar said.

Lung cancer tops list

Prostate, breast lung and colon cancers accounted for more than half of diagnosed cases in New Brunswick from 2007 to 2013. (Shutterstock)

The report said lung cancer was the leading cause of death for men and women, killing more people than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined. 

Between 2007 and 2013, women and men with lung cancer represented between 26.2 and 32.3 per cent of cancer deaths.

Prostate cancer was the most common cancer for New Brunswick men (27.8 per cent of diagnosed cancers) and breast cancer for women (26.9 per cent). Lung was the second most common, about a dozen percentage points lower for both sexes.

Prostate, breast, lung and colon cancers accounted for more than half of diagnosed cases.