Ontario joins other provinces in expanding funding for cancer drug Herceptin (Canadian Press)
Ontario is moving to join other provinces in funding the cancer drug Herceptin for small tumours following a public outcry sparked by a breast cancer patient.
TORONTO - Ontario is moving to join other provinces in funding the cancer drug Herceptin for small tumours following a public outcry sparked by a breast cancer patient.
Cancer Care Ontario announced Thursday that it will fund Herceptin, in conjunction with chemotherapy, for tumours that are one centimetre or less under a new program that offers temporary funding for certain drugs.
Jill Anzarut, 35, ignited a firestorm in March when she publicly complained that the province refused to pay for the potentially life-saving treatment because her tumour was too small.
Anzarut's tumour was a half-centimetre in diameter. At the time, only patients with tumours larger than a centimetre qualified for Herceptin treatment in Ontario.
Patients with smaller tumours can get Herceptin in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, while some other provinces provide it on a case-by-case basis.
Anzarut's story made headlines in Ontario and prompted an investigation by the provincial ombudsman Andre Marin.
Health Minister Deb Matthews initially resisted calls to fund the drug for smaller tumours, saying she would not politicize the process by interfering in funding decisions.
About a week later, Matthews announced that Ontario would allow "conditional" expanded coverage for some cancer drugs where there was evidence that it could have benefits beyond the current criteria.
She said the new guidelines would be in place by May - the same month that Anzarut was told she should start treatment.
Under Ontario's "Evidence-Based Program," the province will fund drugs on a "time-limited" basis so information can be collected "on its clinical and cost effectiveness."
The data will then be used by the government to "help inform a final change to existing funding criteria," according to Cancer Care Ontario's website.
"I remain committed to relying on evidence when we make decisions about which drugs taxpayers will fund," Matthews said Thursday in a statement.
"I'm encouraged to see Ontario's cancer experts take the next step forward and move to build an evidence-based program for cancer drugs. I know this is going to benefit Ontario's cancer patients."
Marin said he's suspending his probe because the province has decided to expand funding of the drug.
"I'm very pleased with the ministry's ongoing efforts to make drug funding decisions more fair and evidence-based," he said.
Marin said he's seeking regular updates from the government and will continue to monitor any developments or complaints on the issue.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who pressured the governing Liberals to make the change, said she's pleased the Ministry of Health has decided to do the right thing.
"It is the government's job to answer for bureaucratic decisions that lack compassion, transparency and common sense," she said in a statement.
"The bottom line is: no woman or man who is diagnosed with breast cancer should have to fight their cancer as well as the government."