Danielle Rodin
Dr. Danielle Rodin is a radiation oncologist and inaugural Director of the Global Cancer Program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. (Photo: UHN)

A new program aimed at closing the widening disparity in access to treatment and unrelenting growth of cancer throughout the world will be launched this spring at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PM).

"We've reached a crisis point in cancer care," says Dr. Danielle Rodin, radiation oncologist and the first Global Health Director at PM. "We have seen major reductions in childhood and maternal deaths in the 20th century, with a shift in the burden of disease to cancer and major non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes."

Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day, a world-wide initiative to encourage everyone to work for equal access for life-saving cancer treatment and care for all – no matter who they are or where they live.

This year's World Cancer Day theme – "I Am and I Will" – is about everyone's commitment to act. The goal is to reduce the number of premature deaths from cancer and non-communicable disease by one-third by 2030.

"Many more people are living longer, including those in low- and middle-income countries, where more than half of all cancer deaths occur," says Dr. Rodin, whose expertise includes global health systems, policy, cost and quality in cancer care. "In these countries, where people continue to be exposed to cancer risk factors – such as tobacco and cancer-causing viruses such as HPV – those over the age of 65, and even those in their prime with young families, will face increasing cancer rates.

"This loss of life has an enormous impact on families and communities in both human and economic terms. Too often, patients die at home, in pain, due to the lack of access to treatment and palliative care."

Globally, about one in six deaths is due to cancer, which second leading cause of death globally, and was responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. About 70 per cent of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries.

World Health Organization statistics indicate that deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to reach more than 13 million in 2030.

The number of new cases is expected to increase more than 80 per cent in low-income countries, which is double the 40 per cent rate expected in high-income countries. It is projected that by 2030, between 10 million and 11 million cancers will be diagnosed each year in low-and middle-income countries.

"Cancer is becoming the new global challenge", emphasizes Dr. Rodin, who had led advocacy movements to improve access to cancer treatment using films, blogs and other multimedia. "It is emerging as one of the big priorities in all countries worldwide.

"It will take a committed global community to come together to unite around this challenge."

This year's World Cancer Day theme – "I Am and I Will" – is a commitment to act. Dr. Danielle Rodin, radiation oncologist and inaugural director of the Global Cancer Program and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, shares her commitment. (Video: UHN)

The aim of the fledging Princess Margaret Global Cancer Program is three-fold:

  • to make cancer care more available to cancer patients and their families, and communities throughout the world,
  • to train the next generation of cancer leaders, and develop international partnerships, and
  • to become an international hub for the world's leading research on the economic, social and other conditions that influence cancer care.

Dr. Rodin points out that Princess Margaret has a strong foundation on which to build such a program. PM has already developed international partnerships with various international cancer centres, and has attracted trainees the world over.

In November 2019, the first Global Oncology Leadership Development program began at PM with 31 fellows in diverse disciplines such as surgical oncology, supportive care, and pediatric oncology from 21 countries.

There, they learned about leadership skills such as cancer policy, cancer care economics, philanthropy and how to foster collaboration across disciplines to create change in their own health systems.

Next year, the PM program will be hosting leaders across Canada to define a role for Canada in global oncology.

And the program will continue to forge dynamic partnerships and exchange ideas with cancer centres around the world, such as with DKFZ in Germany, the King Hussein Cancer Centre in Jordan, and the Tata Memorial Hospital in India.

Dr. Rodin is quick to point out that in these exchanges, PM benefits as much as the centres in other countries.

For example, the Tata Hospital has established a National Cancer Grid of cancer centres, research institutes, patient and charitable groups across India to develop and implement uniform standards of care for cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment, along with specialized training.

The Tata Hospital has also developed an on-line second opinion system, and begun a Non-Governmental Organization advocacy centre for tobacco control in India.

"It's about a bilateral exchange of ideas," says Dr. Rodin. "We share our knowledge, yes, but we also learn about new models of care, and how to be more nimble from our international partners."

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