Cancer wait times: Letter to the editor

In his article published on September 5, 2017, “Cancer, heart patients waiting longer at MUHC”, Montreal Gazette reporter, Aaron Derfel wrote “cancer patients are waiting considerably longer for surgery at the McGill University Health Centre” and that “the situation is particularly striking at the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH)— part of the MUHC — where three patients were waiting at least 57 days”.  Presented without context, his article is a gross misrepresentation of the facts and quality of care given at the MCH. 

What happens routinely for cancer patients at the MCH is an example of the system working ideally.  It is not uncommon for a new patient to have a diagnostic biopsy or tumour removal performed, have all the imaging for tumour staging done, and treatment started within 1-2 weeks of presentation.  For a number of patients, their treatments dictate upfront chemotherapy followed by delayed tumour removal at a pre-determined time during the protocol and which is scheduled weeks in advance.  This “wait” may confound statistics but the patients are having their tumours removed at the appropriate time in their treatment and last-minute scheduling is avoided.  Finally, once a patient has completed their treatment, they may undergo a surgery to remove an implanted catheter through which the treatments were delivered.  Waiting for this procedure may be longer than the 57 days mentioned in Mr. Derfel’s article, however this surgery is elective and has no bearing on the outcome of the patient with regards to their cancer.  Regarding the three patients mentioned above: one was too sick to have surgery at the planned time and two were having elective procedures that had nothing to do with their cancer treatments.

Fortunately, the relatively low incidence of children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer allows for treatment to be accessed and initiated rapidly.  Mr. Derfel’s flippant use of data has created undue anxiety by not providing an accurate and complete portrait of the uncompromising care given to cancer patients and their families at the MCH.   The staff at the Children’s recognize the incredible stress caused by the diagnosis of cancer in a child or adolescent and work hard not to add to that burden by providing state-of-the-art, compassionate, and timely care.

Dr. David Mitchell

Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

Montreal Children’s Hospital