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Cancer Pills: Effective Treatments in Outdated Cancer Systems

By Shawna Rich-Ginsberg February 21 2018

There’s been a lot of talk about Ibrance lately, and it is undeniably good news that the drug for metastatic breast cancer is another step closer to becoming available to women across Canada.

However, there is another piece of this story that we can’t ignore. That’s the fact that even when Ibrance is added to the provincial formulary, in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces it won’t be publicly funded for many. In Ontario specifically, the cost will not be covered for people aged 25 – 64 years old.

Ibrance is a take-home cancer treatment – or in simpler terms, it’s a pill that can be taken outside of the hospital setting. Today almost half of drugs used to treat all types of cancer are taken at home. That can offer patients convenience and freedom from travel, but most importantly it offers patients effective ways to treat their cancer. For breast cancer, more than half of the treatments in the pipeline are taken at home.

However, despite these advances in treating cancer, patients in Ontario and Atlantic Canada face out-of-date systems that are riddled with administrative hurdles and out-of-pocket costs for treatments taken at home. They must apply to a variety of funding assistance programs and ultimately many pay a significant deductible or co-pay. To qualify for assistance programs, patients and their families must submit significant amounts of personal and financial information for their entire household. Patients often face weeks of stressful delay in starting their cancer treatment until the paperwork and approvals are resolved.

In contrast, patients requiring an intravenous (IV) treatment can start that medication as soon as needed and don’t face any financial or administrative burdens, when the drug is included on the provincial formulary. It’s also important to note that Canada’s Western provinces have updated systems that all treat take-home cancer treatments and hospital-administered cancer drugs on an equal basis.

It’s not a question of one type of treatment being better than the other. Cancer medications taken at home and in the hospital, are both effective. One offers freedom from the hospital and the other ensures close monitoring and care. And both can be expensive. But the type of treatment is rarely a choice – it’s the one a patient needs for their type and stage of cancer. And that’s why they should be funded equally.

Rethink is a member of the CanCertainty Coalition, the united voice of 35 Canadian patient groups, cancer health charities, and caregiver organizations, which have joined together with oncologists and cancer care professionals to significantly improve the affordability and accessibility of cancer treatment. This is an issue we’ve been concerned with for a long time, but now it will become a real concern that women with breast cancer face in real time with the introduction of take-home medications for breast cancer.

So, let’s celebrate the arrival of Ibrance in provinces throughout Canada. But we also need to acknowledge there are many more challenges that people dealing with cancer have to face, that go beyond the cancer itself. And an outdated cancer system that doesn’t treat all approved medications the same shouldn’t be one of them.

Shawna
Senior Manager, Support & Education