Nunavut lacks cancer care, detection strategy

“There is growing public concern over this issue”


I am a 30 year resident of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut whose spouse died of cancer on May 16, 2012. Over the course of my husband’s treatment, I became aware that a cancer prevention program could have resulted in early detection of his cancer.

Most, if not all provinces in Canada have such programs, and professional organizations in Canada have recommendations describing optimal cancer prevention programs.

There are effective treatments for prostate and other cancers if detected at an early stage.

Since June of 2012, I have been attempting to obtain information and encourage the Department of Health to create a Cancer Care Strategy and a Nunavut Cancer Foundation as exists in other jurisdictions in Canada.

Commencing in June 2012, I contacted the public health officer in Iqaluit to obtain information on cancer statistics and policies in Nunavut.

I became aware that the Nunavut cancer statistics had not been properly maintained for a number of years and that the Department of Health had undertaken to update the statistics. From June 2012 to November 2012, I continued to request information from department staff.

In November 2012, I formally requested the information from Minister Keith Peterson and received a response in January 2013.

In the response the minister informed me that the department was working on updating the statistics — which it is required to maintain by law — and that these statistics would be available in the spring of 2013.

In addition, it was noted that the current Nunavut approach was based on the November 2003 “Ten year profile of cancer in Nunavut” report.

I responded to the minister applauding the work on updating the statistics and asking if there was a plan to undertake epidemiological research on the statistics once they become available in order to develop an effective Nunavut cancer care strategy.

The minister responded on March 5, 2013 reiterating that the statistics were being worked on, outlining some of the current programs in place and finally referring me to department staff for follow up.

The issue of cancer prevention and detection was raised three times in the March sitting of the assembly: on March 5 by MLA Hezekiah Oshutapik, on March 18 by MLA Moses Aupaluktuq and on March 19 by MLA Tagak Curley.

In responding to the oral questions from MLAs, Minister Peterson noted that the current screening practice in Nunavut is to rely on the patients themselves to bring individual health concerns — including cancer — to the nursing stations, that the department would not commit to developing a prevention and detection cancer care strategy and that Nunavummiut have to trust that the funds that are raised for cancer are put to focused use for the benefit of Nunavut.

Minister Peterson and his staff were invited to the Kivalliq Chamber of Commerce annual general meeting March 25 to March 27, 2013 to discuss these issues with the members. They chose not to attend.

I still do not have the updated cancer statistics for Nunavut.

In addition, there is no commitment by the department to undertake an epidemiological study of the updated statistics when they do become available.

There is no commitment by the department to develop a cancer care strategy for Nunavut.

The Department of Health does not provide Nunavummiut with detailed information on the Canadian standards for cancer screening in order that Nunavummiut can initiate and manage their own cancer screening.

As noted to Minister Peterson, I am willing and able as the past president of the Kivalliq Chamber of Commerce to assist with development and fundraising for a Nunavut Cancer Care Foundation. In this way, Nunavummiut can be assured that the funds raised for cancer in Nunavut are focused on the specific issues that face Nunavummiut.

I understand that cancer detected in stage one or two can be treated more effectively.

From my discussions and observations in the Kivalliq region, many Kivalliq residents are diagnosed in late stage three or four of their cancer and live between one and twelve months after being diagnosed.

The longer it takes to develop a cancer detection strategy and to obtain the resources to implement the strategy, the more people will die.

There is growing public concern over this issue. I would urge Nunavut residents to contact their MLAs and express their own concerns regarding cancer screening and care in Nunavut.

Perhaps with enough encouragement the Government of Nunavut will change their approach.

Ellie Cansfield
Rankin Inlet

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