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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 the net survival for people diagnosed with cancer to significantly increase. Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.
The healthcare system continues to evolve and adapt to meet the needs of patients, although there remain significant gaps in care. With regards to drug access, Canadians with cancer may face some of the following challenges:
• The best therapeutic option recommended by the oncologist is not listed on the formulary of the province of residence or by their private insurer.
• The best therapeutic option recommended by the oncologist is a take-home medication and the person resides in a province where there is no specific program in place to cover the cost of these medications. The person with cancer has to figure out how to access these drugs. Even with private insurance, some patients in this situation will end up having to pay thousands of dollars.
• The best therapeutic option recommended by the oncologist is in the process of being reviewed by one of the bodies involved in 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.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.