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How researchers are improving cancer outcomes in British Columbia’s north

May 30, 2018

I have always been motivated by the challenge of pursuing a research career in a small centre where many said it would not be possible. Now I am proud to be working with a team of colleagues not only in the North, but across the province, the country, and the world.

BC Cancer - Prince George
BC Cancer – Prince George, serving British Columbia’s northern regions. 

It is important to do research centres in large cities, and often more efficient to bring together large teams, but also equally important to develop new research centres of excellence in locations that were previously overlooked. Not only does it expand creativity across the province, but also has a profound impact on local culture and delivery of high quality care for those in need.

Indeed, we know that having research available in a region increases the quality of care, and I believe there is tremendous potential to transform outcomes for patients here in northern British Columbia in the future. Much of that groundwork is now taking place, and will continue to grow with sustained support and interest.



Our biggest area for this to occur is, I believe, in the realm of clinical trials. These trials are pivotal in transforming research breakthroughs into life-saving treatment options, and I hope to develop the capacity to bring these cutting-edge treatment options to patients in rural and remote parts of our province.

In order for this to occur, we will need to create innovative approaches to allow for high quality follow-up closer to homes for these patients – an essential component as patients undertake experimental therapy. With additional monetary support and research, I believe this can become a reality in the future, providing hope to many who are currently unable to access this groundbreaking work.

I also think there is incredible opportunity in the field of radiotherapy and how emerging research is changing the course of cancer treatment as we know it.

PET/CT scanner help provide patients with targeted treatments
Emerging research in radiotherapy has indicated that some metastatic cancers may be cured with the appropriate treatment. 

Historically, we thought that once cancer had metastasized, a patient simply could not be cured.

But new research has shown that with ablative radiotherapy some patients are not experiencing recurrence, or in other words may be cured.

This new paradigm suggests that some patients who have cancer spread to a few locations (e.g. bone and lung), may not truly have the cancer spread throughout their entire body as we once we thought.

It is also possible, in fact likely, that our own bodies immune system is fighting some of the cancer that has spread, and perhaps ablative radiotherapy helps introduce our immune system to the cancer that is both targeted, and trying to grow in other locations.

What’s more, with continued collaboration with imaging specialists and further development of new functional imaging techniques such as PET/CT scanners, we can continue to develop more effective and highly targeted treatments for patients. This will help avoid healthy tissues during the treatment, traditionally hard to do with accuracy beforehand.


Our region is home to some of the most generous people in the province, dedicated to advancing research and care at BC Cancer – Prince George.

Much of the progress I mentioned above will be made possible by the continued support of those in our community who are working to raise funds for the centre.

The Wheelin’ Warriors of the North, a Ride to Conquer Cancer team
The Wheelin’ Warriors of the North, a British Columbia Ride to Conquer Cancer team from Prince George who have raised $750K for cancer research.

Every year, for example, residents from around Prince George come together under the banner of the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North for the British Columbia Ride to Conquer Cancer, the province’s most successful fundraiser for cancer research. Just yesterday our 70th rider signed up, making it the largest Wheelin’ Warriors of the North team yet!

The team has raised upwards of $750,000 to advance research and care for families in our regions – an incredible accomplishment and testament to their generosity, dedication and love for their community.

These people are the heart of progress in our province. It is a delight to be able to see the impact of their generosity in providing hope to those facing this disease, and I look forward to working more closely with the BC Cancer Foundation and its donors to propel our research efforts forward.

Thank you for keeping up with my blog this month.

Until next time,

Dr. Rob Olson