The improvements in cancer treatment in Kelowna and around the world have been plentiful, giving more hope to patients.
Now the BC Cancer Foundation is hoping to take those advances to the next level in the Okanagan, which is one of the fastest growing regions in Canada. The organization has kickstarted a $6.1 million fundraising effort to increase the space required to treat and research the disease.
“The building we’re in opened 25 years ago and hasn’t significantly expanded since, so we are under space pressure,” says Dr. Susan Ellard, the department leader for medical oncology at BC Cancer-Kelowna. “And in particular, because there are so many new treatments to offer people, and people may require more complex or longer treatment, or treatment that keeps cancer at bay for years longer than before, we’re finding that the chemotherapy space is very crowded. And that risks delaying people being able to access treatment in a timely way, so that they can benefit from what we’ve learned.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Dr. Ellard wants everyone to know great things are happening in breast cancer treatment because of multiple research advances over the years. Dr. Ellard and her colleagues who treat breast cancer are very glad that research their centre has been involved in through the years has led to multiple new and better therapies. This is one of the most fulfilling aspects of working in oncology: the chance to see research translate into more cures and longer lives despite a cancer diagnosis. In fact, the survival rate for those who have breast cancer detected early has increased to 92%. Some women who once would have survived incurable cancer for only months on average now may live for many years.
Research has not only increased the number of drug therapies available, but has also added to oncologists’ ability to determine which women with breast cancer do not benefit from receiving chemotherapy as part of their curative plan. This has spared many women harmful side effects they would once have experienced when research had not yet provided tools for identifying less chemo-sensitive tumours.
“We’re much better now at figuring out which women with breast cancer do not require chemotherapy treatment to improve their odds of survival, and that’s enormously valuable,” Dr. Ellard says. “In the past, more people had chemotherapy, because we couldn’t pinpoint who would be advantaged the most. You don’t want to miss something that may be life saving.
“But now we have tests that we’re increasingly confident can tell us when chemotherapy isn’t a value and can be completely omitted, where we might once have routinely given it. And so it’s not just more treatments, but treatments better applied.”
Dr. Ellard, who has been a practitioner for 25 years, says she could not have imagined the technological advances in breast cancer treatment when she was beginning her career. Doctors now better understand various subtypes of cancer. They better understand how genetics play a role and can help prevent cancer in family members. There has been an increase in the number of type of treatments that either hold off cancer for longer if it is not curable or prevent it from coming back.
In addition, research that targets breast cancer could also end up helping treat other forms of cancer.
“As we grow to realize that if we can pinpoint molecular drivers in a cancer, it may move us away from treating cancer based on where it began in the body to treating it with molecularly targeted therapy that gets at the tumour’s particular vulnerabilities,” Dr. Ellard says. “Some of the drivers we learn about in breast cancer research may be shared by other tumours, so that research in one cancer type can advance research or treatment for other types of cancer.”
An improved systemic therapy space will increase treatment capacity at the centre by 40%. This will help more patients, more quickly, and lead to more and earlier stage clinical trials at BC Cancer-Kelowna, which will reduce the number of people who have to consider travelling to Vancouver to access new drug trials.
“We’ve been the second most active clinical trial centre in B.C.,” Dr. Ellard says. “We’d like to engage our clinicians all the more in offering to our patients locally these early-stage drug trials—both because research like that engages really curious and dedicated people to come and work here and stay here, but also because it gives our patients the opportunity to try promising new treatments at the earliest possible stage.”
Learn about the work that BC Cancer is doing in the Interior region and donate today at bccancerfoundation.com.
This article is written by or on behalf of the sponsoring client and does not necessarily reflect the views of Okanagan Edge.
All Think Local Stories