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Pat Kelly on Canada's cancer strategy

Globe and Mail Update

Forty per cent of Canadians will get cancer at some point in their lives. But under Canada's fragmented system, their treatment -- and their chances for survival -- will vary dramatically depending on where they live.

"There is an unofficial postal-code lottery, in which patients in less populous, poorer areas of the country, like the Atlantic region and the Far North, get short shrift," André Picard wrote in Saturday's Globe and Mail.

Now the Conservative government has announced the creation of a five-year, $260-million cancer strategy -- something that people like Pat Kelly, an advocate for the Campaign to Control Cancer, have been urging for years.

"Now we've got both funding and leadership, it's time to close the gap between what we know and what we do for every Canadian family," Ms. Kelly said after the government's announcement.

But how do we close that gap? What does the new cancer strategy mean? What remains to be done in the fight against cancer in Canada?

Ms. Kelly will be online this afternoon to answer your questions and share her thoughts.

Join the Conversation at that time, or submit a question in advance. Your questions and Ms. Kelly's replies will appear at the bottom of the page once the discussion begins.

Pat Kelly began her career in citizen advocacy in 1987, when as a young mother she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While employed as a technologist in immunology research at McMaster University, Pat helped establish networks of patient self-help groups. She also wrote and published six editions of the book, What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer, as well as three manuals for group facilitators.

Formerly a member of the Board of Directors of Princess Margaret Hospital, The Ontario Cancer Institute and The Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation, Ms. Kelly is currently the Program Director for the National Cancer Leadership Forum/Campaign to Control Cancer.

The Campaign to Control Cancer is a national coalition of more than 55 leading cancer organizations. They represent cancer nurses, doctors, patients, families, advocates, researchers, supporters and survivors. Their mission is to put everything we know to work preventing, detecting, treating­ and controlling cancer.

Ms. Kelly holds a Master's of Arts degree in Leadership and Learning from Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC. Ms. Kelly and her family make their home in Toronto, Ontario and in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

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Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: Hello Ms. Kelly, and thanks for joining us today. To start off, when the government announced its new cancer strategy, you said, "It's time to close the gap between what we know and what we do for every Canadian family." Could you tell us a bit more about that gap between what we know and what we're doing now -- how big is it? Who's falling through the cracks? Why have we as a country allowed that gap to persist for so long?

Pat Kelly: One of the biggest cancer myths is that our only hope lies in new research or the "magic bullet" in the distant future — in fact, if we applied what we already know about controlling cancer we could significantly reduce the number of new cancer cases — and some projections claim by as much as 50%. That means doing things like the following:

Breast Cancer: 22,200 diagnosed in 2006, 5,300 will die.
Impact of putting knowledge to work: Screening, mammography, clinical exams could reduce deaths by 40%

Colorectal Cancer: 20,000 diagnosed, 8,500 will die.
Impact of putting knowledge to work: Fecal occult blood test every two years could reduce deaths by 33%

Cervical Cancer: 1,350 diagnosed, 390 will die.
Impact of putting knowledge to work: 90% of deaths preventable with early screening/treatment

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