Cancer is primarily a disease that affects older people and, by 2030, 1 in 4 Canadians will be at least 65. Incidence rates of cancer will remain relatively stable and survival rates will continue to climb across most types of cancers.

Prostate, lung, colorectal, and breast cancer will continue to be the most common. Some cancers, such as prostate, are strongly associated with older age, but others, including thyroid cancer and multiple myeloma, will see an increase due to better diagnostic technologies and practices. A rise in liver cancer cases will be fueled by the high number of Canadians with hepatitis, as well as obesity.

"The need to invest in cancer research has never been more urgent. Canadian researchers are playing a big role in changing the future of treatment by embracing new areas of research in cancer biology."

New areas of research

The need to invest in cancer research has never been more urgent. Canadian researchers are playing a big role in changing the future of treatment by embracing new areas of research in cancer biology. For instance, a group of researchers in Ottawa are developing a new method that treats cancer with viruses. They engineer special oncolytic viruses that target cancer cells selectively while leaving normal cells unharmed, greatly reducing side effects. Dr. John Bell, a world leader in this field, genetically tailors viruses to thwart a cancer cell’s ability to defend itself against viruses. His work is particularly promising for aggressive, hard-to-treat cancers such as pancreatic. Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo and Dr. Rebecca Auer, also in this group, use viruses to make cancer cells more responsive to treatment, and to activate the immune system to prevent cancer from spreading.

Targeted therapies

Biologics are another area of research with great potential. Biologics are a targeted type of therapy that uses synthetic antibodies to mimic the immune system’s own ability to attack proteins on the surface of cancer cells. The new Toronto Recombinant Antibody Centre was set up to enable rapid development of these biologics. Dr. Bradly Wouters, for example, is designing biologics that hinder a cancer cell’s ability to grow and divide by interfering with its metabolism. These new therapies have the potential to be effective for patients with different types of cancer, including aggressive forms, while being less toxic to patients.

Focused therapies are the key to both successful treatment and greatly reduced side effects. The BC Cancer Agency supports a clinical trial for the Personalized Oncogenomics Program of British Columbia, which is interested in treating cancer patients with “personalized” medicine. The investigators assess a patient’s individual cancer using genome sequencing to identify what genes are causing the cancer to grow and thrive and, if possible, match the patient to a biologically relevant targeted therapy. While still a pilot project, investigators have shown this approach is feasible and produces some promising patient outcomes.

Canada’s role

Canada can play a leading role in shaping the future of treatment. We have some of the world’s leading innovators in cancer research, including prevention, treatment, early detection, and palliative care. They need and deserve support. I urge you to get involved in the fight against cancer by supporting charities that fund cancer research in Canada.