On this World Cancer Day, as we reflect on the challenges of British Columbia’s cancer care system, it is important to look for solutions that have a far-reaching impact. Developing more precise and faster radiation treatments is one of those solutions.
Radiation research and clinical trials are expensive. And unlike drug trials, which are often supported by the companies that make the treatments, radiation research in British Columbia relies almost entirely on government funding or donations through BC Cancer. Foundation.
Radiotherapy is an essential part of cancer care and half of all patients require treatment. For some, it may be a long and intense process requiring dozens of treatments, but BC Cancer researchers are making advances that benefit everyone who needs this care.
For example, the standard of care for prostate cancer patients used to be five to more than eight weeks of daily radiation. Thanks to research led by BC Cancer-Victoria, some patients can now receive just five doses of high-precision radiation, which is up to an 85 per cent reduction in treatment sessions. In their next donor-funded trial, researchers are working to reduce treatments even further to two doses by using artificial intelligence to target treatment more precisely.
Meanwhile, researchers at BC Cancer – Prince George are preparing to lead an international trial, funded primarily by the BC Cancer Foundation, that will test the use of a single dose of radiation for patients with several types of metastatic cancer. Compared to existing treatments, which only reduce or slow metastatic tumor growth, this trial is expected to show an improvement in the chances of complete remission and reduce side effects.
These advances are more than just scientific advances. They change the lives of patients, especially those in rural and remote areas. Patients save weeks or months of struggling to find child care or undergo treatment without the support of family and friends, and spending hundreds of dollars on travel and lodging expenses.
A three-time cancer survivor who participated in a trial similar to those mentioned above shared with us that his first experience with cancer several years ago required a six-month stay in Vancouver, hours away from his home, and required a tremendous physical and mental effort. Toll. His third fight required only a handful of radiation treatments at his home center with few side effects. The difference in care was like night and day.
Stay away and the benefits will multiply. Fewer, faster treatments have a ripple effect throughout the cancer care system, because the less time patients spend at a BC Cancer treatment center, the more capacity that center has to treat others. Robust clinical trials also help recruit and retain clinical stars in British Columbia – physicians who contribute significantly to improved patient care and waitlist reduction.
Today’s achievements are made possible by a legacy of community support for these programs, and the same will be true for the radiation clinical trials that are funded today and will become the standard of cancer care in the future.
While the challenges facing the cancer system are complex, innovations like these point a way forward. Philanthropy offers everyone the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to faster, more precise cancer treatments and a stronger cancer care system.
Sarah Roth is president and CEO of the BC Cancer Foundation. Dr. Paris-Ann Ingledew is head of the Department of Radiation Oncology at BC Cancer–Vancouver.