Choosing wisely in cancer control across Canada—a set of baseline indicators

K. Tran, R. Rahal, S. Fung, G. Lockwood, C. Louzado, J. Xu, H. Bryant, in collaboration with the System Performance Steering Committee and Technical Working Group


Value-based care, which balances high-quality care with the most efficient use of resources, has been considered the next frontier in cancer care and a means to maintain health system sustainability. Created to promote value-based care, Choosing Wisely Canada—modelled after Choosing Wisely in the United States—is a national clinician-driven campaign to identify unnecessary or harmful services that are frequently used in Canada. As part of the campaign, national medical societies have developed recommendations for tests and treatments that clinicians and patients should question. Here, we present baseline indicator findings about current practice patterns associated with 7 cancer-related recommendations from Choosing Wisely Canada and about the effects of those practices on patients and the health care system.

Indicator findings point to substantial variations in cancer system performance between Canadian jurisdictions, most notably for breast cancer screening practices, treatment practices for men with low-risk localized prostate cancer, and radiation therapy practices for early-stage breast cancer and bone metastases. Extrapolating indicator findings to the entire country, it was estimated that 740,000 breast and cervical cancer screening tests were performed outside of the recommended age ranges, and within 1 year of diagnosis, 17,000 patients received treatments that could be low-value. A 15% reduction in the use of the 7 screening and treatment practices examined could lead to multiple benefits for patients and the health care system: 9000 false-positive results and 3000 treatments and related side effects could be avoided, and 4500 hours of linear accelerator capacity could be freed up each year.

Interjurisdictional performance variations suggest potential differences in clinical practice patterns in the planning and delivery of cancer control services, and in some cases, in disease management outcomes. Although the cancer screening and treatment practices described might be unnecessary for some patients, it is important to realize that they could, in fact, be necessary for other patients. Further research into appropriate rates of use could help to determine how much cancer care represents overuse of practices that are not supported by evidence or underuse of practices that are supported by evidence.


Value-based care; appropriateness of care; cancer screening; surgery; chemotherapy; radiation therapy

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)