Healthy Living in the North

Cancer and men


Daffodils are popping up all over northern B.C. thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s annual Daffodil Month campaign. It’s a great chance to think about cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

Flowers may be blooming in the Lower Mainland, but in northern B.C., you’re hard-pressed to find spring blossoms in April. There are daffodils everywhere, though, thanks to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month! The annual campaign raises funds and shows support for those living with cancer.

We likely all know of someone who has been affected by cancer and, according to the Where are the Men? report, men in northern B.C. have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women.

I sat down with Margaret Jones-Bricker, regional director for the Northern Region of the Canadian Cancer Society BC and Yukon Division to talk about cancers affecting men and what men can do to decrease their risk.

Are men at a higher risk for cancer than women?

When you look at cancers that only men can get, their risk is 100% greater. Such is the case with prostate and testicular cancers. Overall cancer risk and risk for specific cancers can be determined by a lot of other factors besides sex like lifestyle, genetics, age and family history. In Canada, men have a 45% lifetime probability of developing cancer compared with 41% for women.

What cancers should men be particularly concerned about?

The three most common types of cancer in men are lung, colorectal and prostate. Prostate cancer accounts for about one-quarter (24%) of all new cancer cases in men. Breast cancer rounds out the top four most frequently diagnosed cancers in Canada, but is much less common in men.

In the north, we have higher rates of tobacco use, which means higher rates of lung cancer. Smoking is related to more than 85% of lung cancer cases in Canada and men develop lung cancer slightly more often than women.

Approximately 1,000 Canadian men were diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2014. It is the most common cancer in young men 15–29 years of age.

What can men do to decrease their risk of cancer?

The number one thing men can do is if you smoke, stop!

Other ways to decrease cancer risk include lifestyle changes related to physical activity and healthy eating. The Canadian Cancer Society has some great nutrition and fitness recommendations.

Occupational and environmental factors can also impact our health; these include our home and work environments. Have your home tested for radon, which is a factor in lung cancer, second only to tobacco use.

What screening options are available to men? How do they know if they should be screened?

Approximately 5-10 per cent of cancers are related to specific inherited genetic abnormalities. The fact that 1 or 2 family members have been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you will also develop cancer. This is especially true if the family member is not a first-degree relative or if the cancers are of different types. It is important to discuss screening with your doctor if you have a family history of cancer. Your doctor may suggest testing at an earlier age or using a different test than recommended by the provincial guidelines.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men (and women) age 50 and over have a stool test (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test) at least every 2 years. There is convincing evidence that stool tests with appropriate followup can significantly reduce deaths from colorectal cancer.

Prostate cancer seems to be different. Large, reliable studies haven’t been able to tell us clearly whether it’s a good thing to use these tests to look for prostate cancer. So, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about your risk of prostate cancer and about the benefits and risks of finding it early.


In northern B.C., men have higher rates of new cancer diagnoses and are dying of cancer more often than women. There are, however, things that men can do to decrease their risk of cancer.

Are all cancers preventable?

Up to 50% of all cancers are preventable. Certainly your risk of contracting lung cancer is hugely preventable by quitting smoking.

For other cancers, we don’t always know what the cells in our bodies will do, but we can do our best by following a healthy lifestyle, getting physically active, eating more vegetables and fruit, and limiting our consumption of red meats and alcohol.

Investing in the best research has led to tremendous progress against cancer. We know more about what causes cancer, how it develops, how best to treat it and how we can improve the quality of life of people living with cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

What resources are available for men looking for more information?

The Canadian Cancer Society has information specific to men and downloadable pamphlets on everything from cancer prevention to diagnosis and treatments:

We strongly encourage smokers to use the supports that are available to help them quit smoking and to get access to nicotine replacement therapies through the Lung Association’s QuitNow and the new QuitNow Men websites.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.


A focus on our people: Stop Smoking Before Surgery

In the latest CEO video blog, Cathy is excited to share Northern Health’s involvement in Stop Smoking Before Surgery – a joint initiative with the BC Cancer Agency and the Canadian Cancer Society. Cathy speaks with Nancy Viney, Dr. Nadine Caron, Jenn Brookes, and Kristen Morey about this initiative that is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute.

Cathy Ulrich

About Cathy Ulrich

Cathy became NH president and chief executive officer in 2007, following five years as vice president, clinical services and chief nursing officer for Northern Health. Before the formation of Northern Health, she worked in a variety of nursing and management positions in Northern B.C., Manitoba, and Alberta. Most of her career has been in rural and northern communities where she has gained a solid understanding of the unique health needs of rural communities. Cathy has a nursing degree from the University of Alberta, a master’s degree in community health sciences from the University of Northern BC, and is still actively engaged in health services research, teaching and graduate student support.


Want to quit smoking? Quitnow services can help!

Man chops novelty size cigarette with axe

Give tobacco the axe!

As a health care provider, I have witnessed, firsthand, the devastating effects of tobacco.  I tried smoking as a teen and I’m aware of how easily people can become addicted. Because of my experience with tobacco, I encourage people to quit as soon as possible. There is evidence that people who quit smoking in January are more likely stay quit! A new year and new plans may be the key the motivation!

People quit for many reasons – primarily because it’s the best thing you can do for your health. Although quitting can be difficult, even the most addicted tobacco users have been able to escape this addiction.

Whether you use tobacco yourself, or you care about someone who smokes or chews tobacco, take some time to visit Quitnow and explore this comprehensive website that features information and support to help you quit. You can also access the most up-to-date information; receive personal counselling online, by phone or by text; and join peers and experts on chats and forums. Quitnow offers one-to-one counselling by a “Quit Coach” who will work with you to develop a personalized quit plan. There’s also a 24/7 help line that you can access whenever you need to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to quit smoking.

The website has tools and resources to help you plan your quit strategy and develop a personal attack on your addiction. You will learn more about your addiction by taking the addiction quiz to help you understand why you smoke or chew and increase your motivation to live tobacco free.  There is also a cost calculator that shows the financial cost of smoking and how much more money you will have in your pocket when you quit.

You may want to learn about the medication that can help you quit. Quitnow has information about using the nicotine patch and other nicotine replacement therapies, as well as cessation medication, such as Champix and Zyban. These medications may help you manage withdrawal while you are quitting.

Quitnow has recently added information to support people who are quitting tobacco to prepare for surgery. This information was added to support Northern Health’s Stop Smoking Before Surgery Initiative. Northern Health is working together with BC Cancer Agency and the Canadian Cancer Society to ensure that patient are aware of the benefits of being tobacco free before surgery, such as decreasing complications and infections, and shortening their hospital stay.

Quitnow is operated by the BC Lung Association and supported through grant funding from the BC Ministry of Health, under the Healthy Families BC initiative. You can depend on Quitnow services to provide accurate tobacco cessation information and support.

If you use tobacco, you likely want to quit – maybe not today, but soon. I urge you to consider setting a quit date!

Contact Quitnow services online or call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1 to connect with a counsellor.

Remember, you can help support your healthy habits with a $300 GC by entering our photo caption contest.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.


WellnessFits in the workplace!

20131023KerensaMedhurst_WellnessFitsFocusing on health in the workplace can be a lot of work. We already seem to have work piled on every corner of our desks (and every other surface around us), so initiating and organizing something to support workplace health can seem overwhelming. We know, though, that when done right (that is, comprehensively), workplace health initiatives can make us more productive at work – and outside of work. At the end of the day, putting more effort into bringing health into the workplace can support us as workers and our employers.

In my health promotion work over the years, I have crossed paths with the Canadian Cancer Society on many projects. My counterpart there, Kerensa Medhurst, has one of the coolest jobs in the world: supporting people to be healthy in work. She has a program that you can roll out in your workplace, so I wanted to sit with her and learn more about it:

So, I’ve heard a little bit about WellnessFits – what can you tell me about it?

The Canadian Cancer Society has a workplace wellness program called WellnessFits. This is a comprehensive and free workplace wellness program in partnership with Healthy Families BC.

The WellnessFits program is designed to assist organizations with their wellness efforts and to support employees with the care of their own well-being. The program provides employers with free expertise and tools to create opportunities in the workplace to improve the health of their employees. We have a website with interactive applications for employers, tools to help the employer target their focus and assess employee wellness priorities, eight modules consisting of activities and challenges, an evaluation, and other support materials. The Canadian Cancer Society staff are pleased to work directly with the workplace to plan a unique workplace wellness program catering to individual needs using information, resources, and an online application.

Why is workplace wellness a priority for the Canadian Cancer Society?

The Canadian Cancer Society is committed to eradicating cancer and improving the lives of people with cancer. About half of all cancers can be prevented through healthy living and policies that protect the health of everyone. The Society’s health promotion and cancer prevention strategies include educating Canadians about risk reduction and early detection, promoting and supporting healthy lifestyles, and advocating for healthy public policies. We know that people spend more time at work than anywhere else and we also know that investing in workplace wellness saves money for employers in the long run.

Great! How can people get involved?

To learn more, people can go to our website, People are also encouraged to get in touch with me (Kerensa Medhurst, to get more information on our WellnessFits program. We would love the opportunity to meet with organizations, to provide information about workplace wellness, and to talk about the program. We want to find out how we can build on the great work that you are already doing in the area of wellness in your workplace. The Society is pleased to offer this program and invites you to join us in partnering to improve employee health and reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Your turn: have you ever organized for wellness in your workplace? What was your experience? Are you interested in what WellnessFits might have to offer you?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.