Sask. one of the only provinces without Indigenous-specific cancer supports: professor

Saskatchewan is the only province or territory outside the maritimes without Indigenous-specific cancer supports.

That’s one of the conclusions of a spring environmental scan from University of Saskatchewan researcher and surgeon Dr. Gary Groot. The survey notes Saskatchewan offers several formal supports for cancer patients in general, but none specifically for Indigenous patients.

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Other jurisdictions, except the maritime provinces, provide at least one Indigenous-specific cancer support, it notes.

In an interview, Groot, who is also the chair of the equity advisory committee at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, said Indigenous and Metis patients have unique needs within the cancer care system, including accessing culturally appropriate services.

“There’s good reason to say that in our province, with Indigenous cancer patients, there’s specific things that we should consider doing,” he said.

For Indigenous patients, those supports could include incorporating language and peer navigation services, Groot said.

Navigation can include assistance from former Indigenous cancer patients, who share a language with those facing treatment and can help them manage the care system. Other options included increased transportation, language and cultural supports, he said.

Other provinces can provide examples in that effort. Groot pointed to a promising example in British Columbia, where Indigenous patients receive a book to guide them through care decisions.

Bryan Jorgensen, director of supportive care with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency (SCA), said navigators are available to help all patients identify barriers like finances or travel concerns, helping them connect with resources that could ease those challenges.

While he hadn’t seen the research, Jorgensen said there could be further work on transportation, and availability of First Nations and Metis navigators in collaboration with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

He said the SCA is working on “building that relationship and trust within those communities,” adding it hopes to consult further with patients, because a lack of trust may make them more reluctant to use the agency’s services.

Transportation challenges could be addressed partly through virtual and remote care, he said. He also pointed to local oncology programs located in communities like Prince Albert and Meadow Lake, which could reduce time travelling south for treatment.

Groot agreed remote care could be a helpful step, but said he’s also convinced more could be done to assist Indigenous cancer patients in the province.

While there have been some promising early steps and pilot projects, and “the will is there, … we have some more work to do,” he said.

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