Fighting Cancer with Numbers

What do you mean by that?

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization has said ‘What gets measured gets done’. One major challenge to cancer control is to understand what we’re up against. What needs to be improved, and by how much? How many cancers are there in each country and region? What are the survival and mortality trends? How is the cancer control system performing? Answering these questions requires counting and categorizing information about many individuals and situations. This information then needs to be interpreted to create useable knowledge. Once this sort of knowledge is created, it must get into the hands of the right people, at the right time.

TimHannaTell us about yourself

My name is Timothy Hanna, and I am a Canadian radiation oncologist involved in health services research. In my research, I investigate access to cancer care and quality of cancer care. The goal is to seek out ways to improve cancer control. These research themes are of global importance given the increasing incidence of cancer across the globe. Being a radiation oncologist, my work focuses on cancer treatment, particularly radiation therapy.

What are you working on right now?

There are a few things. As one example, I’m investigating the achievable benefit of radiation therapy in the general population. If we were able to get this cancer treatment to everyone that needed it, how many people would we help? The primary work focuses on Australia, but this will be adapted to other settings. I’m working on this with a team in New South Wales, Australia. This work will inform the investment framework under development by the Union for International Cancer Control’s (UICC) Global Task Force on Radiotherapy for Cancer Control (GTFRCC).

How did you get involved?

I have had a longstanding interest in global health. As a medical student, I spent some time in Niger. I was struck by the limited cancer treatment resources where we were, the late stage of presentation and social determinants impacting access to cancer care. That was an important exposure that helped me think about global disparities and inequities in cancer care and health care. In residency, I had the chance to work with an experienced radiation oncologist clinician scientist who showed me how health data could be used to shed light on inequities and other quality issues in cancer care. This led to my fellowship work at the Ingham Institute in Sydney, Australia, and ultimately to my work at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario where I work as a radiation oncologist and clinician scientist supported by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR).

Why do you think radiation therapy is important?

Radiation therapy is an irreplaceable part of cancer control. Cancer is a global problem, affecting countries of all levels of economic development. Radiation therapy delivers outstanding value for money, and is especially important in contexts where there is a burden of advanced cancers requiring treatment. When radiation therapy reaches those who need it, lives can be saved, body function maintained, and quality of life improved. These are all exceedingly important to people diagnosed with cancer.

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