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B.C. to send cancer patients to U.S. for radiation treatment

The B.C. government will soon begin sending up to 50 cancer patients per week to the United States for treatment.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the plan to add capacity outside the province at a news conference Monday afternoon.

"Starting May 29, 2023, BC Cancer will offer eligible patients the opportunity to have their radiation therapy at one of two partner clinics in Bellingham, Wash," Dix said.

The minister described the move as a necessary one to reduce wait times for B.C. cancer patients while the province works to build up its own capacity to meet the expected surge in demand for cancer treatment in the coming years.

The province announced plans for expanding that capacity earlier this year, but Dix said those plans are not enough for people dealing with the disease right now.

"We must do more," he said. "We must do it now. And we are."

Dix said the province has signed temporary agreements with PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Center and North Cascade Cancer Center, both in Bellingham.

"Using this additional available capacity beyond a patient's B.C. health authority in Bellingham will help BC Cancer reduce radiation therapy wait times for breast and prostate cancer patients," Dix said.

The minister explained that these two groups are the largest populations receiving radiation treatment in B.C. They also tend to have fewer mobility issues than patients with other types of cancer, which is "an important consideration" when travelling across the border for care, Dix said.

"As we move through this first group of patients – and if gains in our B.C. capacity are not fast enough or broad enough – we will consider identifying additional patient groups that are clinically appropriate to receive additional radiation therapy in Washington," he said.

A news release from the Ministry of Health accompanying Dix's announcement clarifies that patients travelling to Washington for treatment will have costs for themselves and a caregiver "fully covered."

The cost of travel, meals, accommodation, the treatment itself and any emergency treatment or associated hospital costs will all be included, according to the ministry.


Dix noted during his announcement that sending patients to the U.S. for treatment is not unprecedented.

From 2018 through 2020, he said, cancer patients from Victoria and Kelowna were offered the option to receive treatment in Bellingham while equipment in those B.C. cities was being upgraded.

Likewise, from 2006 to 2009, increased demand for maternity care for high-risk pregnancies and neonatal intensive care for newborns led to the province paying for 91 expectant mothers to get care in Oregon and Washington.

Nevertheless, BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau had harsh criticism for Dix's announcement.

"It is shocking that the minister of health is applauding sending B.C. cancer patients across the border for radiation treatment," Furstenau said in a statement Monday afternoon.

"B.C. used to be a leader in cancer care in Canada, today’s announcement shows that the system we currently have is failing to meet people’s needs." 

The province estimates that approximately 4,800 people will benefit from cross-border cancer treatment over the next two years.

More than 30,000 people were newly diagnosed with cancer in B.C. in 2021, and that total is expected to grow to 45,000 by the year 2034, according to Dix. Top Stories

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