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Good news for Manitobans with cancer

WINNIPEG – “Tell me your postal code and I will tell you your chances of surviving cancer,” says Dr. William Hryniuk, past chair of Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada (CCAC) and former director of cancer centres in the Canada and US.

Access to cancer drugs remains highly variable across the country but Filipinos living in Manitoba will be happy to know that Manitoba and other western provinces continue to lead the pack in providing new cancer drugs to their citizens.

According to the CCAC’s recently released 2007 Report Card on Cancer in Canada, what Canadians pay for cancer has increased across the provinces. At the same time, provincial coverage of key cancer drugs is spotty, with some provinces covering the medications and others refusing to do so. For example Ontario funds the lowest number of 42 cancer drugs studied in the report while BC funds the greatest number. Manitoba ranks second.

The CACC’s Report Card is the country’s only independent evaluation of the cancer system’s performance. This year’s report card highlights the lack of funding for prevention research, the need to refine the clinical trials system, the need to enhance the role of nursing in supportive care, and the need for greater utilization of technological innovations in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Take the example of Herceptin, a very expensive breast cancer-fighting drug. In May 2005, clinical trial results suggested Herceptin (Trastuzumab) in addition to traditional chemotherapy could prevent recurrences of breast cancer and improve overall survival rates from the disease.

This drug costs $40,000 a year per patient depending on weight, and not all provinces in Canada would pay for this drug. But here in Manitoba, it is offered for free.

“I have a very fast growing and aggressive breast cancer,” said Leslie Cowan, who travelled to Buffalo, N.Y., for Herceptin treatments. Cowan said she was willing to pay $100,000 US for the drug.

“This drug, Herceptin, attacks that genetic mutation and extensively reduces the risk of recurrence by 50 per cent. So to me, this is a miracle drug,” said Cowan in an interview with CBC news.

Each year more than one million women are diagnosed worldwide with breast cancer and approximately 400,000 die. Today there are close to four million women living with breast cancer on our planet.

In the Philippines, where cancer is the fourth leading cause of death and breast cancer the number one cancer affecting women, patients cannot expect the same kind of institutional support.

Each chemotherapy session in the Philippines costs around 50,000 pesos, enough reason why we Filipinos living in Manitoba should be thankful.

The 5th World Congress on Breast Cancer will be held right here in Winnipeg on June 4 to 8, 2008. As this author can attest, Winnipeg offers exemplary treatment and care for its breast cancer patients.