News / Hamilton

Hamilton-area cancer patients face worst radiation waits in Ontario

Hamilton-area cancer patients face the worst waits for radiation therapy in the province.

Wait times are also too long for surgery and are rising for some types of chemotherapy and cancer screening in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Local Health Integration Network that includes Burlington, according to a report released Wednesday by the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario.

“We live in a LHIN where lifestyle choices are leading to a large cancer burden,” said Dr. Bill Evans, president of Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre, noting this is one of the reasons for the backlog.

“That burden is disproportionate to our population.”

Only 77 per cent of cancer patients got their radiation within the target 14 days in 2012. That is the lowest rate of any LHIN and significantly below the Ontario average of 89 per cent. It is also a drastic drop from 85 per cent in 2011.

The waits are particularly acute for prostate cancer patients, plummeting to just over half getting radiation on time. The 5 3 per cent rate is a far cry from the provincial average of 79 per cent and the goal of 87 per cent. It has been that low for at least two years and is the worst rate in Ontario.

There is hope the new Walker Family Cancer Centre, which opened in St. Catharines in March, will reduce some of the wait times as it increases the amount of radiation treatments that can be done in the LHIN and brings the therapy to Niagara for the first time.

Area cancer leaders question whether waits truly are as bad as they seem in this part of the province. They say the data they supplied to the report was incomplete and unreliable because the LHIN is in the midst of changing its cancer information system.

“There are gaps,” said Mark Farrow, chief information officer at Hamilton Health Sciences. “What we’re able to submit is not a complete picture.”

Cancer Care Ontario stands by the report created by its advisory group and says the results are reliable. However, a note has been put on the Hamilton LHIN results stating that not all data required was provided.

Cancer surgery also had high wait times despite improvements between 2011 and 2012.

Only 77 per cent of cancer patients got their surgery within the target time in 2012. That is better than 70 per cent the year before but still below the Ontario average of 81 per cent and the goal of 90 per cent.

Again, the rates drop for prostate cancer to 60 per cent locally — drastically different from the Ontario average of 75 per cent. That is after improving the rate from 43 per cent the year before.

Even in some areas where cancer care in the LHIN scores above average, the report shows waits are rising.

Nearly 67 per cent of colon cancer patients got chemotherapy within 60 days of surgery in 2010. That is a drop from 73 per cent the year before, but still well above Ontario’s average of 58 per cent.

There was a similar trend in following up abnormal results i n breast cancer screening. This area was close to the Ontario average, with follow-ups within three weeks of the abnormal screen date 71 per cent of the time in 2011 for women aged 50 to 74. But that is down from 79 per cent in 2010.

In addition, too few people aged 50 to 74 are getting a followup colonoscopy within eight weeks of an abnormal screening test.

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