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Access to cancer drugs and diagnostics 

The role of cancer drugs

Prescription drugs play an essential role in cancer treatment. Cancer drugs such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapy and immunotherapy work in different ways to destroy cancer cells, stop them from spreading or slow down their growth. Drugs are also being used to lessen, or relieve, side effects of cancer or its treatment. Advances in cancer treatment, diagnostics and care have led to more people surviving cancer. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

Drug access challenges facing Canadians

The healthcare system continues to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of patients, but there are still significant gaps in care. Canadians with cancer may face some of the following challenges with drug access:
The drug recommended by their oncologist is not covered through provincial or territorial drug benefits or their private insurer
Take-home cancer drugs are recommended as the best therapeutic option but the province they live in does not cover the cost of these medications, forcing them to pay costs out of pocket
The drug recommended by their oncologist is delayed because it is in the process of being reviewed through the drug approval process

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is difficult enough. People with cancer should not have to face additional challenges and anxiety trying to access their prescribed treatment. 

Drug shortages

Drug shortages continue to be a serious and growing concern within the Canadian health care system that has been impacting delivery of patient care and treatment for years. We know that shortages are deeply worrying to people with cancer and their families – it is simply not acceptable to go without the medication you need.

Pharmaceutical companies must report the following on the website www.drugshortagescanada.ca:

an anticipated drug shortage

a discontinuation of a drug six months in advance

any previously unreported shortage within five days of learning about it

Gaps in the Canadian healthcare system present an opportunity for the federal government to develop and implement long-term solutions to address ongoing drug shortage challenges that have impacted people with cancer for years. The government must work with industry partners, professional associations, provinces and territories, healthcare representatives and other countries to rapidly identify and respond to disruptions. People with cancer deserve to have uninterrupted and reliable access to required medications in a timely manner, without financial hardship.

Take home medications

For many years, cancer drugs were usually given in a hospital, and patients did not have to worry about how to access their prescribed treatment. Now, many new cancer treatments are taken at home instead of in the hospital. This has many benefits for a person who has cancer – the medicines are easy to take and less travel is required. But depending on the province, it also means the person with cancer has to figure out how to access these drugs.

In Ontario and Nova Scotia, for example, coverage for take-home cancer drugs comes from a mix of private insurance, out-of-pocket costs or various provincial programs. The western provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) have programs for eligible cancer drugs given in a hospital or at home.

The disparity in access to take-home cancer drugs among provinces is not acceptable and must be fixed. Provincial and territorial governments must take immediate action to implement programs for take-home cancer drugs.

Our position

Canadians should have equitable access to PSA test for early detection of prostate cancer without having to pay out-of-pocket when they have a physician referral before any signs or symptoms, regardless of where they live in Canada. 

Take-home cancer drugs Ontario

What are take-home cancer drugs?

Over the last decade, cancer care for many types of cancer has changed from in-hospital to at-home, with take-home cancer drugs becoming a standard treatment for many cancers. In fact, almost half of drugs used to treat all types of cancer are taken at home instead of in the hospital. Take-home cancer drugs allow individuals with cancer to undergo treatment in the comfort of their own home, free from burdensome and often costly travel to and from hospital. 

Who pays for take-home cancer drugs?

However, in Ontario, take-home cancer drugs are not publicly funded in the same way medications delivered in hospital are funded. While people with cancer who receive cancer treatment in the hospital have universal access to cancer drugs with no undue delays or direct costs, Ontarians with cancer who require treatments taken at home are faced with out-of-pocket costs, administrative barriers, and delays to treatment access.

A gap in coverage can have a significant effect on treatment plans for people living with cancer. Studies show financial struggles can impact the decisions people with cancer make: they may not follow through with their treatment plan, such as rationing their required medication to reduce their costs, or they may pursue alternative treatments whose costs are covered. In a universal system, patients and their doctors should be making treatment decisions based on what is best medically without having to worry about the financial cost.

In a recent poll conducted by CCS, 96% of the Ontarians polled agreed that the government should fund take-home cancer drugs, and 82% of Ontarians support fully funding take-home cancer drugs even if it meant paying more in taxes.

Our position

The Canadian Cancer Society believes all Canadians should have access to take-home cancer drug treatments without financial hardship, regardless of where they live. Coping with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment is difficult enough; people with cancer and their families should not have to deal with the additional stress of having to determine how they will pay for their medication. CCS is calling on the Ontario government to fund take-home cancer drugs the same way they do medications taken in hospital.

Take-home cancer drugs Ontario

What are take-home cancer drugs?

Over the last decade, cancer care for many types of cancer has changed from in-hospital to at-home, with take-home cancer drugs becoming a standard treatment for many cancers. In fact, almost half of drugs used to treat all types of cancer are taken at home instead of in the hospital. Take-home cancer drugs allow individuals with cancer to undergo treatment in the comfort of their own home, free from burdensome and often costly travel to and from hospital. 

Who pays for take-home cancer drugs?

However, in Ontario, take-home cancer drugs are not publicly funded in the same way medications delivered in hospital are funded. While people with cancer who receive cancer treatment in the hospital have universal access to cancer drugs with no undue delays or direct costs, Ontarians with cancer who require treatments taken at home are faced with out-of-pocket costs, administrative barriers, and delays to treatment access.

A gap in coverage can have a significant effect on treatment plans for people living with cancer. Studies show financial struggles can impact the decisions people with cancer make: they may not follow through with their treatment plan, such as rationing their required medication to reduce their costs, or they may pursue alternative treatments whose costs are covered. In a universal system, patients and their doctors should be making treatment decisions based on what is best medically without having to worry about the financial cost.

In a recent poll conducted by CCS, 96% of the Ontarians polled agreed that the government should fund take-home cancer drugs, and 82% of Ontarians support fully funding take-home cancer drugs even if it meant paying more in taxes.

Our position

The Canadian Cancer Society believes all Canadians should have access to take-home cancer drug treatments without financial hardship, regardless of where they live. Coping with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment is difficult enough; people with cancer and their families should not have to deal with the additional stress of having to determine how they will pay for their medication. CCS is calling on the Ontario government to fund take-home cancer drugs the same way they do medications taken in hospital.