10 things that happened in 2021 and the impact on the future of cancer

While 2021 proved to be another challenging year with a global pandemic, it didn’t stop Canadians across the country from helping us make a meaningful difference in the lives of those affected by cancer.

From uniting communities virtually to investing in groundbreaking research initiatives and continuing to provide support to Canadians living with cancer and their loved ones, take a look at some of the things that happened over the past year and what they mean for the future of cancer.

1. Continued to provide support to Canadians affected by cancer throughout the pandemic

With COVID-19 continuing to affect people across the country, our support services remained available to provide trusted information and support to those facing cancer and their loved ones. As the pandemic evolved, our website stayed up to date with information about cancer and COVID-19 and vaccines. Thousands of Canadians found comfort and support through our toll-free cancer information helpline and online community,

For people who have to travel to receive life-saving cancer treatment, our transportation services help them get to and from their appointments safely. In 2020, we were able to safely restart support services like our lodges and wig program and were proud to do the same in 2021 for our transportation service. This summer, we resumed our Wheels of Hope program in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan with enhanced safety measures.

We continued to offer virtual camp programs for children affected by cancer and their families and introduced Goodtimes Getaways in British Columbia – an in-person camp experience where families could participate in activities together within their bubble. This program allowed campers to reconnect with their family, have fun and enjoy nature at their own pace in a safe, facilitated environment. 

2. Made sure the needs of people affected by cancer were not forgotten

Over the past 2 years, the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on cancer care in Canada, including decreases and delays in diagnosing cancers and delivering treatment.

To help us better understand the continued impacts of COVID-19 on people affected by cancer and their caregivers, we asked Canadians to share their experiences through confidential surveys. This feedback informed our advocacy efforts throughout the pandemic as we continued to stand up for people living with cancer and develop recommendations for actions that address their concerns. Together, we advocated for people facing cancer to be first in line to receive vaccines.

We also formed the Canadian Cancer Society Voices for Change program – a volunteer group where members can get involved in our advocacy work and take action to change policies that will help improve the lives of those affected by cancer. 

3. Continued to unite communities virtually to make a difference

From nationwide events like Relay For Life and the CIBC Run for the Cure to locally driven fundraisers, we continued to raise funds for the cancer cause and be there for each other, even when physically apart.

On June 12, people across the country once again came together virtually for the Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life. With the help of our passionate Relay participants, supporters, volunteers, donors, partners, performers and participants of hope, we raised $3.5 million – proving that community is bigger than cancer. 

Every year, the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure raises funds for groundbreaking breast cancer research and a nationwide support system that makes a real difference for people affected by breast cancer. This year’s event on October 3 marked the 30th anniversary of the Run, where more than 20,000 participants united to raise over $9 million!

Whether together or apart, it’s inspiring to see our supporters across the country rally behind the cancer cause and continue to be a force-for-life in the face of cancer. 

4. Took a stand on important cancer issues during the federal election

Ahead of the 2021 federal election, the Canadian Cancer Society called on all parties to make cancer care and prevention a priority. In our Federal Election Recommendations Report, we outlined ways that the newly elected Government of Canada could help those living with cancer and prevent more people from ever being diagnosed, including: 

  • Restore cancer care disrupted by the pandemic
  • Commit to cancer prevention now and when the pandemic is behind us by implementing policies and programs that promote healthy living and protect the health of all Canadians
  • Guarantee the right to affordable, high-quality palliative care for all

5. Shared our plan to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at the Canadian Cancer Society

In June 2020, we made a commitment to our supporters, partners, researchers, staff, volunteers and community to listen, learn and take meaningful action to address systemic racism. In May 2021, we shared an update on our action plan and how we have been working to create organizational change over the past year.

Our work to advance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion is ongoing and something that we are committed to now and well into the future. 

6. Released the 2021 Canadian Cancer Statistics report

To better understand how cancer will impact Canadians across the country, we released the 2021 Canadian Cancer Statistics report in collaboration with Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The report revealed that significant progress is being made in saving the lives of people with prostate cancer. Since its peak in 1995, the prostate cancer death rate has declined by 50%. This progress is a testament to advancements in research that have led to life-saving treatments.

Other key findings in the report include: 

  • About 2 in 5 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.
  • Five-year survival for cancer is now 64%, up from 55% in the early 1990s.
  • The cancer death rate has decreased almost 30% since its peak in 1988.
  • In 2021, about 229,200 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer and nearly 85,000 are expected to die of cancer.

7. Launched the Centre for Cancer Prevention and Support in Vancouver

In November, we launched our new Centre for Cancer Prevention and Support (CCPS) based in Vancouver.

With more than 70% of cancer survivors experiencing significant physical and emotional challenges after treatment, there’s an urgent need to preventing cancer before it happens and supporting those living with and beyond cancer.

This first-of-its-kind facility in Canada will bring together researchers, clinicians, staff, cancer patients and innovators to focus on reducing cancer’s impact and improving the quality of life for those faced with a diagnosis. 

8. Formed the Don Green Palliative Care Advocacy Team

The Canadian Cancer Society has long advocated for better access to affordable, culturally safe, high-quality palliative care for Canadians – regardless of where they live or if they choose to receive care.

Thanks to a donation of $1.5 million from the Don and Shirley Green Family Charitable Foundation, we formed the Don Green Palliative Care Advocacy Team – which will advocate for policies that improve awareness, access and quality of palliative care across the country.

Working in partnership with other groups dedicated to palliative care, the team will focus on removing barriers to increasing hospice beds, as well as improving data collection to better measure and report on access to and quality of hospice care in Canada. It will also advocate for appropriate education and training for healthcare providers and for funding the creation of hospices and community-based services in underserved communities. 

9. Announced recipients of our Awards for Excellence in Cancer Research

In May, we announced the winners of our 2020 Awards for Excellence in Cancer Research. Seven Canadian researchers were recognized for their bold leadership and trailblazing contributions to drive progress in multiple areas of cancer research. This year’s Awards for Excellence included 2 new prizes: the Lifetime Contribution Prize and the Inclusive Excellence Prize.

Dr Joseph Pater received the inaugural Lifetime Contribution Prize, which recognizes an individual who has enhanced the Canadian cancer research landscape to significantly benefit people with cancer. Dr Pater was the founding director of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) and led the group for 27 years. Under his guidance, the CCTG has become one of the most well-respected cancer clinical trials networks in the world, producing results that have accelerated the development of new treatments and established new standards of care.

The first-ever Inclusive Excellence Prize – which honours individuals who have demonstrated leadership in advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in Canadian cancer research – was jointly awarded to Drs Nadine Caron and Juliet Daniel.

Dr Caron is the First Nations Health Authority Chair in Cancer and Wellness at the University of British Columbia and the Co-Director of the UBC Centre for Excellence in Indigenous Health. As a surgeon and researcher of First Nations descent, she has passionately and tirelessly advocated for the rights of marginalized and Indigenous peoples in Canada in cancer research and care.

Dr Daniel is a cancer researcher at McMaster University who volunteers her time to raise awareness and reduce stigma about breast cancer among young Black women and mentor underrepresented youth in science. She is also the co-founder of the Canadian Black Scientists Network, which is dedicated to supporting Black Canadians in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

10. Funded a diverse portfolio of new cancer research grants

Canadian Cancer Society-funded research drives new discoveries to improve health and healthcare for Canadians. In 2021, we seized emerging opportunities to fund a program of innovative new grants.

In February, we announced the 27 recipients of the Spark Grants, in partnership with Brain Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Cancer Research. This investment of $4 million over 1 year supports research projects that apply new technology to develop innovative approaches to cancer prevention and early detection.

We also announced the recipients of the Canadian Cancer Society Emerging Scholar Awards, aimed at establishing and advancing promising early career scientists and clinician scientists from across Canada. Through this program, $9 million over 5 years will be invested in early career researchers to help them develop their cancer research programs and pursue important scientific advances of the highest quality and potential for impact.

Finally, we launched the J.D. Irving, Limited – Excellence in Cancer Research Fund and the Atlantic Cancer Support Fund. Atlantic Canada has some of the highest incidence of cancer and cancer death rates in the country. Our new Atlantic Campaign will help change this, by investing $20 million in prevention, support and research programs for Atlantic Canadian families facing cancer.

With the help of our supporters, partners and donors, we’re funding groundbreaking cancer research, providing compassionate support services, offering trusted cancer information and shaping health policies that help prevent cancer and make a difference in the lives of those living with the disease.

As we look to 2022 and beyond, we’re more determined than ever to continue making lasting change in the lives of people affected by cancer across the country. Together, we can prove that we’re a force-for-life in the face of cancer.