The total number of new cancer cases in this country is expected to jump 40 percent within 15 years, driven largely by our growing and aging population. Several women’s cancers top the list, including breast and uterine cancers. Promising cancer research taking place in Canada and worldwide continues to lead to major advancements in how these cancers are detected, diagnosed and treated. 

Canadian researchers playing a key role in prevention

Canadian researchers are playing pivotal roles in expanding our knowledge of cancer biology, leading to improvements in how we treat these diseases. Homegrown research also means more Canadian women are able to take part in vital clinical trials, focused on treatment as well as quality of life.

"Canadian researchers are behind many of the key advances in better understanding how to prevent cervical cancer."

Canadian researchers are behind many of the key advances in better understanding how to prevent cervical cancer. Dr. Eduardo Franco, for instance, helped identify a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV, as the true cause of cervical cancer. This discovery led to the creation of vaccines that are helping to prevent cancer in millions of women worldwide. The vaccines are also being used to help prevent several other types of cancer, including throat and anal cancers in men. Indeed, these vaccines are considered one of the greatest successes in cancer prevention. 

Understanding cancer to improve treatments

By pioneering the approach that less is more, another Canadian, the late Dr. Vera Peters, changed the way women everywhere are treated for breast cancer. She proved that lumpectomy with radiation was just as effective as radical mastectomy for women with early stage breast cancer, sparing these women the physical and emotional trauma associated with radical mastectomy. Many researchers in Canada and worldwide have embraced her philosophy and continue to find ways to provide a cure for cancer patients without over-treating them.

A number of Canadian researchers are focusing on the basic biology behind women’s cancers. This area of research is incredibly important. Cancer is a complex set of diseases. We need to understand the fundamental behavior of cancer cells in order to design better treatments. Collaborative research done worldwide has led to the discovery that both breast and ovarian cancers are not single diseases; rather, each has various subtypes with their own unique biology and response to treatment. Canadian researchers are expanding on this knowledge to help develop more effective treatment strategies. 

A patient’s cancer journey doesn’t end after treatment. Nearly half of all cancer survivors strongly fear their cancer will return. This fear is often highest in women. For some patients, the fear can impede enjoyment of their daily lives. Drs. Christine Maheu and Sophie Lebel are leading a clinical trial in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal for women diagnosed with breast or gynecological cancers (such as ovarian, cervical and uterine) to determine whether group therapy can help patients better cope with the fear of cancer returning and anxiety. This research, one of only two such clinical trials worldwide, is a prime example of how Canadian-led research is fulfilling the unmet needs of women cancer survivors. 

I urge you to get involved in the fight to continue to improve women’s health by supporting charities that fund cancer researchers. We must continue to support this life-saving work.