Annual report gives local cancer hospitals high marks

OCT 12, 2018 — The thought of undergoing cancer treatments like chemotherapy can feel overwhelming for some patients, who may fear side effects.

“They may have heard that the cure can be worse than the disease when it comes to certain treatments,” said Dr. Ralph Meyer, Vice President of Oncology and Palliative Care for Hamilton Health Sciences and Regional Vice President for Cancer Care Ontario.

But there’s good news for patients being treated at cancer centres in the region.

The 2018 Cancer System Quality Index, released this week by the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario, shows that healthcare professionals at the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC) in Hamilton and Walker Family Cancer Centre (WFCC) in St. Catharines do an exceptional job helping patients manage symptoms. The JCC serves cancer patients across the LHIN as well as provincially for selected services while WFCC acts as the hub of integrated cancer services for Niagara.

Ninety-eight per cent of patients reported that their healthcare team appropriately managed their symptoms and included them in decisions about how symptoms were treated and handled. Compassionate care ranked high, with 95 per cent of patients reporting that their healthcare team responded to their worries, concerns or feelings of sadness, while 91 per cent of patients said their healthcare team talked to them about symptoms of concern. These rankings, covering 2016/17, were at, or above, the provincial average.

The Regional Cancer Program ranked best in the province at helping breast cancer patients avoid unplanned trips to hospital emergency departments (EDs) due to adverse treatment symptoms. Reasons for this success include the urgent care unit at the JCC that helps outpatients manage symptoms early and effectively so problems don’t escalate. The JCC also implemented a strategy where nurses phone cancer patients at home when treatment symptoms like nausea are at their peak, to offer support and symptom management. Additional supports for cancer patients in their last year of life are also helping to avoid ED visits and hospital admissions.

Approximately 38 per cent of patients reported using the electronic kiosks compared to the provincial average of 58 per cent and provincial target of 70 per cent.

“Significant quality improvement work has been done over the past year to help patients report their symptoms by completing a brief questionnaire electronically at home or on a kiosk at the JCC. Current data show 60 per cent of all patients are reporting their symptoms using a kiosk. The health care team is able to monitor symptoms over time to ensure that patient concerns are being addressed.”

The Regional Cancer Program wants to see more residents participating in free breast, cervical and colon cancer screening programs offered by the province since screening can catch cancer early when it’s easier to treat. Regionally, screening rates for breast, cervical and colon cancer are on par with the provincial average.

To help improve access to high-quality cancer screening, the Mobile Cancer Screening Coach expanded into Niagara last year and also implemented a workplace program for selected Hamilton businesses. The Coach is a 45-foot-long bus offering mammograms, Pap tests, a take-home colon cancer test and tobacco cessation support for people who face barriers to screening. It also offers services in downtown Hamilton, Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation territories.

The report predicts the region will see 10,500 new cancer cases in 2018 and 4,000 deaths. It identified higher rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity in our region compared to the Ontario average. Studies estimate that as many as half of all cancers in Ontario could be prevented by eliminating known risk factors like lack of exercise, poor eating habits and smoking. This region also has an older population than the provincial average, and cancer is often related to aging.

Last year, more than 80 per cent of new JCC cancer patients were screened for tobacco use. That’s 10 per cent above the provincial target and up 60 per cent from 2016. Of those patients, more than 22 per cent accepted a referral for smoking cessation support, exceeding the provincial target of 20 per cent.

The 2018 Cancer System Quality Index can be viewed at