Cancer remains a dreaded disease even today. But whether patients survive cancer seems to depend on where they live and how much they can afford to spend on the drugs, according to a Canadian report.
"Essentially, we will continue to ration life-saving cancer treatment, and some Canadians will live and some will die simply because of where they live," said the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada report.
The latest cancer treatments are very expensive. In 2005, only in the province of Alberta, patients had to pay for certain drugs they received. But in 2006 the "self-pay" trend spread to five other provinces, says the coalition report.
It appears that government funding of cancer drugs and use of diagnostic tools like PET scans differ dramatically from province to province, reports the group.
In Quebec the facilities are more. For instance, for every 30 cancer patients who get a PET scan, only one does in Ontario.
Just a single province, B.C., the nation's leader in drug coverage, pays for one breakthrough leukemia drug.
The doctors suggest that a national "catastrophic drug costs" program be set up that would provide all Canadians similar access to the latest cancer drugs.
But they also admit that governments in future may not be able to cover the entire expense of expensive new treatments and advise people to start paying for drug insurance when they are young.
More research is also intended to find "biomarkers" to identify patients likely to respond to a particular drug in order to avoid treatment of people who will not benefit from the medication, said Dr. William Hryniuk, an oncologist.
Meanwhile the unfortunate ones continue to suffer. "You feel sort of left out in the dark, in the cold, abandoned by the professionals who are supposed to be taking care of you," said Mario Codispoti, a Toronto-area electrician, who often has to battle for access to and funding of drugs. "The governments, it seems they are playing games between themselves and pharmaceutical companies."