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Cancer risk profiles for Canada’s largest cities revealed in new report


September 30, 2013
By Mari-Len De

Sept. 30, 2013 – Municipalities in western Canada generally lead healthier lifestyles and have better cancer risk profiles than their eastern counterparts, according to a new report released by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

The report, Population Health in Canada's Largest Cities, assessed
differences in the cancer risks of populations in Canada's largest
cities, presenting indicators for selected cancer risk factors including
tobacco use and exposure, physical activity, obesity, alcohol and fruit
and vegetable consumption. The report also includes information on the
percentage of Canadians in each of the featured cities reporting
up-to-date cancer screening for colorectal, breast and cervical cancers.

"The
Government of Canada recognizes that cancer is a major health issue for
Canadians," said Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health. "Leading a
healthier, active lifestyle plays an important role in reducing the risk
of many forms of cancer. Additionally, detecting cancer early through
appropriate screening can save lives."

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Typically, the prevalence
of chronic disease risk factors is measured and reported at the
provincial or territorial level. But there's value in taking a close
look at indicators at the local municipal level, the Canadian
Partnership Against Cancer said. Banning smoking on city property, or
providing access to bike paths, or keeping junk food out of public
schools are some ways municipal governments can influence the health of
Canadians and reduce their cancer risk.

"Canadians can affect
their own cancer risk by making healthier choices like eliminating
tobacco use, healthy eating and being active," said Dr. Heather Bryant,
vice-president, cancer control at the Canadian Partnership Against
Cancer. "But, at the same time, we should acknowledge that public health
policies play an important role in creating supportive environments for
individuals to make these healthy choices. Studies like this one are
intended to encourage conversations and show where we could work
together effectively to benefit Canadians."

Variation within provinces
While
economic, cultural and social variations have considerable influence on
cancer risk, even cities with comparable socio-economic profiles can
have very different risk profiles, perhaps partly as a result of
different policy and planning, according to the report.

For
example in Ontario, Hamilton ranks in the top ten for reduced
second-hand smoke exposure in public places, while Oshawa ranks in the
bottom five. Hamilton has bylaws in place to limit second-hand smoke
exposure while Oshawa does not.  Similarly, Saskatoon has crafted bylaws
that go beyond provincial legislation to limit second-hand smoke
exposure in public places. It now has the lowest rate of exposure in the
country. The rate in Regina is more than twice as high at 12 per cent.

In
Alberta, Calgary ranks in the top third of most indicators related to
prevention, while Edmonton ranks in the middle or bottom third. In
British Columbia, residents of Victoria report that they are
significantly more active than their Vancouver neighbours but a higher
proportion of them report drinking beyond the recommended guidelines
relative to Vancouver residents.

In Ontario, Toronto has among
the lowest rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, and percentage of
people who report being overweight, or obese. But
Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, Hamilton and Oshawa all rank lower on
these measures.

In Atlantic Canada, Halifax ranks highly for its
physically active population, but as with residents in most of Atlantic
Canada, it has high rates of smoking.

The variation in the
prevalence of cancer-risk factors between cities may well reflect the
socio-economic status of the local population, its average age, and
income and education levels, but local health policies and bylaws can
and do have a major impact, the report said.

"Municipal policies
play an important role in the health of Canadians. For example, Peel
Region's new Outdoor Smoking By-law removes harmful second-hand smoke
from areas where children play, and entrances to libraries, arenas,
community centres and other municipal buildings," said Dr. David Mowat,
medical officer of health, Region of Peel. "Smoke-free places protect
the health of the community, while supporting smokers who want to quit.
This report sheds light on health issues common across the largest
cities in Canada and creates an opportunity to leverage expertise from
other cities to advance cancer and chronic disease prevention work in
this country."

Screening
Research shows that regular
screening for colorectal, cervical and breast cancers can not only
improve outcomes, but save lives. While provinces manage and deliver
screening programs for colorectal, cervical and breast cancers, gauging
the uptake at the municipal level can help identify where local
promotion efforts could help bolster participation in these potentially
life-saving tests and scans. The report found that Edmonton, for
example, has among the country's lowest rates of women taking pap smears
and undergoing mammography screening, while Calgary's screening rates
for both of these tests are among Canada's highest. Saskatoon has
substantially higher screening rates for pap tests than Regina. Yet
Saskatoon's mammography screening rate is one of the lowest in the
country, while Regina has one of the highest. In Ontario, Ottawa has one
of the best pap test-screening rates in the country, while Toronto has
one of the worst.

"As a colorectal cancer survivor who received
excellent care, I encourage anyone over 50 to be screened – early
detection is important, when the disease is usually easier to treat,"
said Archie McCulloch, a retired scientist from Fall River, N.S. "I'm
encouraged that more Canadians are now being screened; these programs
can literally save lives."

The Canadian Partnership Against
Cancer works with Canada's cancer community to reduce the burden of
cancer on Canadians. Grounded in and informed by the experiences of
those affected by cancer, the organization works with partners to
support multi-jurisdictional uptake of evidence that will help to
optimize cancer control planning and drive improvements in quality of
practice across the country.