Canadians among least optimistic cure for cancer is imminent: Poll

For all the running, cycling, ribbon-wearing, and head-shaving done by residents of Canada and the western world, we are actually the least optimistic that a cure for cancer will be found within our lifetime, suggests a new international survey.

According to the Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for Canada杭州夜网, residents of this country are the fourth least likely, among international residents surveyed, to believe a cure is within reach.

Fifty-one per cent of Canadians surveyed said they believe a cure is imminent.

The only nations more skeptical were Germany, Italy, and Hungary. Following Canada, was Britain, the United States, Poland, France, Belgium and the Dutch.

Meanwhile, 78 per cent of Indians surveyed said they believe a cure for cancer will be discovered before they die.

Argentina, China, Mexico and Russia were also among the top five most optimistic countries, followed by Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

"I just wonder whether part of the optimism is benign or blissful," said Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright, noting confidence was strongest in countries that are arguably less sophisticated in terms of their medical knowledge.

"Other countries that are on hot pursuit everyday trying to find a cure for this, their populations know that it’s much more difficult."

Terrence Sullivan, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, said talking about a cure for cancer is difficult, because of the many facets of the disease.

"Cancer is not one disease – it’s hundreds of different diseases," said Sullivan, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.

"It’s not like saying you’re going to reduce heart disease or eliminate HIV infection.

"The whole idea of curing the disease is a very good aspiration, but what we’re learning is effective ways of winning the game of yards with cancer," he said.

"The disease that killed Terry Fox would likely not have killed him if he were diagnosed today – not because of one big bang, but because of multiple developments in technique, from surgery to chemotherapy to radiation, that would have given him a better shot at survival," he said. "It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s multiple weapons that are being used now."

Sullivan said a general sense of optimism in some countries may spill over into the realm of medical advancements, despite the odds being stacked against an all-encompassing cancer cure being discovered any time soon.

"India is having a spectacular decade with respect to their economy, so there’s no reason to believe this wouldn’t confer greater buoyancy," he said. "Economic development improves life expectancy, so there are real relationships there. Countries that are showing rapidly expanding economies will have optimism."

Wright, the pollster, said he considers himself among the 49 per cent of Canadians who believe a cure is imminent.

That said, he said he can sympathize with those who appear less hopeful.

Noting five of his wife’s friends have beat breast cancer in the past five years and are now leading healthy lives even though some have undergone mastectomies and hysterectomies in the process, he suggested the poll may be more a sign of "sober thought."

"The question was whether or not we’re ever going to see a total cure," he said. "Maybe what were seeing in this is . . . maybe not a cure, but maybe a management of it. Maybe the capacity to deal with it and an understanding that it’s not a death sentence. It’s just a conditional quality-of-life issue."

He suggested cancer is now a disease that’s "under control" and that fewer people are dying from it than was the case 20 years ago.

Sullivan mirrored those thoughts and reflected on his own career when discussing the progress made in the field of cancer research.

"Twenty years ago, when I first got exposed to the field of cancer, survival rates were pretty poor, but today, close to two-thirds of the population (with cancer) is living five years or more," Sullivan said, adding that the key for Canada is "being organized and aligned as a country so we have well-organized, articulated plans" to combat cancer.

"In many common types, like prostate cancer and thyroid cancer, about 95 per cent of the population living five years or more from those conditions."

Some conspiracy theorists argue that should a cure actually be found, the billion-dollar cancer research industry might cease to exist, putting thousands out of work. But Wright doesn’t buy it.

"I think in this age of transparency, where you can announce something in the morning on Twitter or the Internet and in the afternoon the entire world can know about it, I just don’t think that’s a valid issue," he said.

As part of the poll, more than 24,000 adults were surveyed in 23 countries representing three-quarters of the world’s GDP.

The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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