The Selinger government is hiring more pathologists and technologists to reduce cancer-treatment wait times as health authorities prepare for higher rates of the disease in an aging population.
On Tuesday, the province announced it would add eight pathologists, 35 technologists and two test co-ordinators to speed cancer testing.
The government is also expanding the number of cancer service hubs in rural areas to cut driving time for people living outside Winnipeg.
The first hub opened in Morden-Winkler last year. New locations are to include Brandon, Selkirk, Steinbach and Thompson. Eventually, about 15 will be established across the province.
Eight social workers and patient navigators, who help cancer patients and their families navigate the treatment process, are being hired in the new treatment hubs.
The initiatives announced Tuesday will cost about $6 million in the first year.
Premier Greg Selinger and Health Minister Theresa Oswald emphasized the initiatives are not only good for patients, but cost-effective. Quicker treatment can save lives and prevent more serious illness.
"They are investments that really make a difference in people's lives, in the quality of their lives," Selinger told a gathering at CancerCare Manitoba.
Oswald said the improvements are about "being intelligent, about being efficient and about using resources in the best possible way."
In June 2011, the NDP government announced a five-year, $40-million strategy aimed at reducing cancer-treatment wait times -- from a family physician's first suspicion to treatment -- to 60 days or less. Currently, the wait is between three and nine months.
The strategy comes at a time when cancer rates are set to skyrocket. In the next 15 to 20 years, the number of Manitobans diagnosed with cancer is expected to increase 50 per cent, according to a report the government released Tuesday.
More than 6,100 patients are diagnosed each year with cancer in Manitoba, and up to 10 times that number are suspected to have the disease before it is ruled out.
Oswald said health officials have already hired or got commitments from professionals to fill about 35 of the 53 new positions announced Tuesday. That includes commitments from five of the eight pathologists the government is seeking.
Cancer survivors invited to the announcement applauded the medical community's and the province's efforts.
Mark Evans, diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2008 and now on the board of the CancerCare Foundation, said reducing wait times and hiring staff to guide patients through the treatment process are critically important.
Cancer-fighting initiatives announced Tuesday:
Hiring of 53 new front-line staff, including pathologists, technologists and those who help patients navigate the treatment system;
Creating a provincial cancer surgery program rather than have regional health authorities work in isolation;
Introducing digital mammography and expanding the Breast Health Centre at St. Boniface Hospital;
Developing a model for after-hours care for cancer patients;
Expanding the use of advanced genetic and molecular cancer testing.