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The Voice of People With Breast Cancer


Our Voices Blog

Getting people access to the treatments they need

There’s been a lot of talk lately about new metastatic breast cancer treatments that can greatly extend the lives of many people in Canada. Targeted therapies are changing the landscape for mBC in a big way. Unlike chemotherapy, which delivers treatment to a broad range of cells, targeted therapy delivers treatment to specific cells within your tumour that are fueling its growth. This leads to better treatment outcomes, and less side effects.

CDK4 inhibitors, for example, are targeted therapies that block cyclin dependent kinases (CDK) which regulate cell division. Blocking CDKs stop cells from multiplying and will, therefore, slow down cancer growth1. These news types of drugs help treat metastatic hormone positive (HR+) breast cancer.

HR+ is one of the most common subtypes of breast cancer, accounting for up to 70% of cases. Metastatic breast cancer is always changing, growing and adapting. Over time, it grows to resist the treatment you’re using to fight it. For this reason, it’s really important for women to have access to treatments that work.

There are thousands of women in Canada who would benefit from receiving treatments like CDK4 inhibitors; however, the drug review process makes it difficult for women to get timely access to these life-extending treatments when they need them. Palbociclib, for example, is a CDK4 inhibitor that is slowly making its way through the Canadian drug approval process. It received its Notice of Compliance from Health Canada in March of 2016 and has just recently finished being reviewed by the pan-Canadian drug approval bodies, meaning it took almost 2 years for it to be reviewed.

Just recently, Palbociclib was added to public formularies in Québec, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. This means that if you are living in these provinces you will be able to access this treatment. But for the rest of Canada, paying out of pocket or using private insurance is the only option until more provinces add it to their formularies.

Palbociclib is not the only cancer treatment that is affected by this slow approval process. Every new treatment drug that comes to Canada must be reviewed and approved by several decision-making bodies. Our 2015 report, Waiting for Treatment, found that a breast cancer treatment can take up to 2 years on average to be approved. It also found that the process is not fully transparent and patient input is not always accounted for. CBCN fully supports the need for new therapies to be reviewed for safety and efficacy; however, we also understand the need to patients to be able to access clinically beneficial medications in a timely manner. To understand more about Canada’s lengthy drug approval process, download our infographic here

CBCN continues to advocate to improve access to important breast cancer treatments. We are actively reaching out to provincial Ministries of Health to ensure that timely access is a priority in their decision-making process. We encourage you do to the same! Write your provincial Minister of Health and tell them how important access to quality treatments for metastatic breast cancer is. Use our Digital Advocacy and Storytelling Toolkit to help you prepare your letter and find contact information here.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The views and experiences expressed through personal stories on Our Voices Blog are those of the authors and their lived experiences. They do not necessarily reflect the position of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network. The information provided has not been medically reviewed and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare team when considering your treatment plans and goals.