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From the very beginning, BC Cancer has seen, and driven, many changes in cancer care, knowledge translation and research.

Then known as the British Columbia Cancer Institute, BC Cancer’s first cancer treatment centre officially opened in Vancouver on November 5, 1938. 

What has never changed during the past 70 plus years is our clear focus on the quality of patient care as well as our drive to improve detection and treatment options for patients through investigative research – all of which have paved the way for how we deliver our services today. 

Highlights of key moments


  • November 5 – With an anonymous gift of $50,000 to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation, the first cancer treatment centre is created. The British Columbia Cancer Institute (now BC Cancer) officially opens in a renovated house at 11th & Heather, on part of the land where the current Vancouver Centre operates today.
  • British Columbia Cancer Institute started with a staff of three full-time and two part-time employees – today BC Cancer employs more than 3,000 staff across the province!


  • The Victoria Cancer Clinic (now BC Cancer – Victoria) opens its own dedicated space within Royal Jubilee Hospital.


  • A new 36-bed boarding home is completed and named the BC Cancer Institute Private Hospital, as it had evolved into delivering overnight nursing care.
  • Cervical Cancer Screening Program is established – the first in the world. Since the launch of the program it has successfully reduced cervical cancer rates by 70 per cent.


  • Medical Director Dr. A. Maxwell Evans retires. Under his leadership, the BC Cancer Institute grew to a province-wide organization employing 300 people. Over 42,000 patients sought treatment and diagnosis during this time.


  • October 31 – The BC provincial government takes over operation of cancer care and treatment from the BC Cancer Foundation. The Cancer Control Agency of British Columbia is formed.


  • September 20 – The BC Cancer Research Centre officially opens in an old bakery building in Vancouver.
  • The first patients receive treatment through clinical trials.


  • Researchers and clinicians develop a combined radiation therapy and potent chemotherapy that doubles the cure rate for limited stage small cell lung cancer.
  • Goldie-Coldman Hypothesis – leads to use of two different non–cross-resistant chemotherapy regimens in alternating cycles (combating chance of drug-resistant clones).


  • April 23 – Phase I of the A. Maxwell Evans Clinic (what is now the Vancouver Centre) expansion project officially opens.
  • Scientists in the Terry Fox Laboratory develop “culture purging,” used in bone marrow transplantation to eliminate cancer cells in leukemia patients.


  • Scientists and technicians at the BC Cancer Research Centre develop a Dynamic Microscope Image Processing Scanner (computerized microscope that identifies and tracks living cells).
  • Cancer endocrinologists introduce a new combination of two hormonal agents for treatment of prostate cancer.
  • Researchers develop therapy using red light and light-sensitive drugs to destroy lung tumours.


  • September 30 – The Victoria Cancer Clinic moves into a new building on Royal Jubilee Hospital grounds.


  • July 18 – The Screening Mammography Program of BC is established – the first in Canada. Through early detection the screening mammography program has reduced breast cancer in BC by 25 per cent.


  • An innovative treatment protocol for patients with early stages of Hodgkin lymphoma reduces treatment time and decreases the chance of recurrence.
  • Light-induced fluorescence endoscope, developed by scientists in the Cancer Imaging Department, spotlights hidden cancers in the lungs.

Early 1990s

  • Researchers in Medical Biophysics develop the “comet assay,” a versatile and sensitive method for measuring DNA damage in individual tumour cells.


  • The Cancer Control Agency of BC changes its name to the British Columbia Cancer Agency.
  • Cancer Imaging creates ACCESS, an Automated Cervical Cell Screening System.


  • Cancer Imaging develops the Cyto Savant, a machine capable of screening cytology samples such as sputum smears by quantitative analysis in a fully automated way.


  • The British Columbia Cancer Agency shortens its name to BC Cancer Agency.


  • May 12 – The Agency’s third treatment centre (the Fraser Valley Centre) begins operations in Surrey.
  • The Agency, UBC’s Dept. of Ophthalmology and TRIUMF open the nation’s first cancer treatment centre using beams of protons to destroy tumours.


  • Counsellors in the Hereditary Cancer Program see their first patient.
  • BC patients with pancreatic and colorectal cancer are the first to receive novel liposome anticancer drugs.
  • The BC Cancer Agency completes Canada’s first clinical trial of a gene therapy intended to trigger patients’ immune systems to fight cancer.


  • The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (Washington, DC), and European clinicians and scientists, adopt Agency standards for interpreting pre-malignant biopsies for early lung cancer.
  • The Agency begins establishing the first Genome Sequence Centre in Canada dedicated to cancer research.


  • April 3 – the Agency’s fourth treatment centre opens in Kelowna – Centre for the Southern Interior.
  • The Agency launches brachytherapy in Vancouver for men with prostate cancer (the only facility west of Toronto to offer the treatment, which uses radioactive “seeds”).


  • Agency researchers join the first national effort to track the use of complementary and alternative therapies by cancer patients.
  • The Genome Sciences Centre helps to pinpoint gene function in two of six chromosomes in a type of roundworm, gaining new knowledge into the role genes play in cell division.


  • The new Vancouver Island Centre opens for patients.
  • Agency researchers, as part of an international collaboration, find that stomach removal may be a preventative option for those with a strong family history of gastric cancer and when genetic testing can prove cancer risk.
  • Screening Mammography Program of BC launches “Fast Track,” a provincial program to reduce the time between a first abnormal screening mammogram and the tests that will lead to a final diagnosis.


  • The Agency launches a tissue tumour repository (TTR) – the first research resource of its kind in Canada.
  • The Terry Fox Laboratory discovers a way to reproduce stem cells of the blood forming system of adult mice in large numbers outside the body, opening potential benefits to patients requiring bone marrow transplants for cancer.


  • Scientists at the Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre complete the first publicly available draft sequence for a coronavirus implicated in SARS.
  • The BC Provincial Pediatric Oncology/Hematology Network is established, a joint initiative of BC Children’s Hospital and the BC Cancer Agency.


  • Researchers discover a gene (“Rtel”) which may explain the ability of cancer tumours to grow and thrive.


  • The new BC Cancer Agency Research Centre building opens. Research has grown at the BC Cancer Agency to now include 93 faculty and more than 400 research staff and 340 research trainees!
  • Initial phase of Telecare, a program developed by the BC Cancer Agency’s Vancouver Island Centre in partnership with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, is launched.2007 A breakthrough study halts the growth of prostate cancer in the lab, setting the stage for development of innovative approaches to treat androgen-independent prostate cancer.
  • The Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy is developed, enabling cancer patients to receive faster and more precise radiation therapy.



  • The BC Cancer Agency’s Colon Check pilot program launches in Penticton.
  • Scientists from the Agency’s OvCaRe Program and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute discover a spelling mistake in the genetic code that causes a type of Ovarian Cancer. The discovery marks the beginning of a new era of cancer genomics.
  • A major breast cancer breakthrough is announced – Agency scientists are the first in the world to decode genetic evolution of a breast cancer tumour, pointing to development of new breast cancer treatment targets and therapies.
  • The BC Generations Project launches in the fall of 2009, the largest-ever BC health research project to benefit future generations (it is part of a 30 year Pan-Canadian study).
  • The Agency’s CAMEO program launches – the first of its kind in Canada to support how to safely integrate evidence-based complementary medicine with conventional cancer care.


  • Agency scientists and partners identify a specific protein involved in resistance to therapies against a target called IGF1R in childhood sarcomas.


  • Centre for the Southern Interior receives new name in honour of the late MLA Sindi Ahluwalia Hawkins.
  • Agency scientists discover that a single gene, CIITA, is implicated in almost 40 per cent of one type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and 15 per cent of all Hodgkin lymphoma cases.
  • Agency scientists reveal a connection between a natural enzyme (CA9) and the spread of breast cancer, proving that CA9 is a major biomarker in tumour development.
  • Pilot study proves accuracy in detection of lung cancers with a new technology developed in Vancouver – the laser Raman spectroscopy (LRS).
  • The Agency’s OvCaRe program and partners find that mutations in rare, seemingly unrelated cancers were all linked to the same gene, known as DICER.


  • November 1 – The Agency’s sixth treatment centre – Centre for the North – opens in Prince George.
  • Agency scientists decode the genetic makeup of triple negative breast cancer, which could lead to more effective treatment.
  • Agency scientists and UBC identify new breast cancer genes that could change how the disease is diagnosed and form the basis of next-generation treatments. The disease is reclassified into 10 completely new categories based on the genetic fingerprint of a tumour.


  • The Agency celebrates 75 years of providing cancer care to residents across British Columbia.
  • First-in-Canada technology helps specialists to better detect lung cancer; the new 3D navigation system enhances diagnosis, staging and care for patients.
  • A 10,000 square foot expansion opens at Vancouver Island Centre, funded by the BC Cancer Foundation. The new space houses patient supportive care services.
  • The provincial Colon Screening Program is launched. Components of the program are implemented first in Island Health, with the remaining health authorities coming on board in late 2013.
  • Screening Mammography Program of BC celebrates its 25th anniversary. Since the program launched it has performed more than 4.5 million mammograms and detected over 19,600 breast cancers.


  • A BC Cancer-designed prostate cancer drug entered clinical trials and scientists developed a new method for single cell sequencing.


  • Provincial government announced $3 million in funding to the BC Cancer Foundation to support the Personalized OncoGenomics program and high-priority cancer projects.
  • New digital mammography vehicles serve women in rural and remote areas.
  • BC Cancer Chinese Support Group celebrates its 10th anniversary.
  • BC Cancer opens the Late Effects, Assessment and Follow-up (LEAF) Clinic, a long-term follow-up clinic for survivors of cancer.


  • Historic Indigenous cancer strategy and partnership launched to address the unique cancer-related challenges facing Indigenous communities in B.C.
  • BC Cancer, in partnership with the BC Cancer Foundation, announced a new identity that reflects a province-wide mandate of cancer care and research.
  • BC Cancer – Prince George (Centre of the North) celebrates its 5-year anniversary.





  • Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, BC Cancer was at the forefront of innovations and adaptations to better serve patients, their families, and the public.
  • BC Cancer - Victoria celebrates 20 years supporting Island patients.
  • BC Cancer's Cervix Screening Program celebrates 65 years of saving lives in B.C. The program was launched in the mid-1950s, following a pilot project that established the cervix screening test, known as a Pap test, was an effective way to detect precancerous conditions in the cervix. 
  • BC Cancer welcome Indigenous Patient Navigators to help patients who identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit receive supportive care that is trauma informed and culturally safe.
  • A new prostate cancer treatment improves survival rate in men with advanced disease, as shown in a phase III clinical trial.


  • BC Cancer launches an at-home cervix self-screening pilot in Central Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, improving access to screening and helping to prevent cervical cancer.
  • BC Cancer launches province-wide lung cancer screening program, providing access to eligible high-risk people at 36 sites throughout the province.
  • The Terry Fox Laboratory celebrates its 40-year anniversary.
  • BC Cancer Prince George celebrates 10 years of supporting patients in the north.
  • BC Cancer - Vancouver designated a Comprehensive Radiopharmaceutical Therapy Center of Excellence, the first centre in Canada to receive this designation.
  • The first-in-Canada Ethos radiation therapy unit at BC Cancer - Kelowna treats first patient.


SOURCE: History ( )
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