The Canadian healthcare sector contributes 33 billion kilograms of CO2 emission annually. I was shocked when I learned about this statistic earlier this summer when I first started working on my summer project at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. The STEER COVID-19 project (short-term environmental and clinical effects of RMP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic) is an ecology research project at the Radiation Medicine Program (RMP) in PMH. This project explores the complex intersection of sustainability, oncology, and the COVID-19 pandemic at RMP. This study is led by my supervisors, Drs. Philip Wong, Emma Ito, and Marianela Lopez.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many opportunities within the department to find a more environmentally impactful way of delivering radiation therapy, which included the shift to increasing hypofractionated treatments (dividing the full dosage of radiation into larger doses given less often, instead of smaller daily doses). The objective of the study was to assess the CO2 emissions from various sources of a patient’s radiation therapy treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. This included the CO2 emissions from the patient’s travel to the hospital, linear accelerator power usage, personal protective equipment usage from our staff, and the number of emails sent and received from our department as a result of work from home practices. In addition to these objectives, we also assessed the rate of adverse events and toxicities from our patients as a result of changing to alternate dose fractionation pattern.

In early August, I had the opportunity to present a 3-minute recorded Ted-Style talk presentation for the PM Cancer Education Summer Student Series. The purpose of this presentation was to summarize some of the key findings that I found from my project, and some important takeaways that I had personally. I hope that in these three minutes, you can get a glimpse of the type of work that I was involved this summer. I also hope this this presentation will continue to spur your curiosity on the sustainability within healthcare!

This presentation was awarded the “Best Ted-Style Talk” at the summer series.

Ronald Cheung is Radiation Medicine Program Summer Student at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in the 2021 session.