Test determining need for chemotherapy not funded in B.C.
Within the next few months, the BC Cancer Agency hopes to offer a test that could dramatically reduce the number of breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
The agency said it’s in negotiations with the company that provides OncotypeDX tests, which analyze 21 genes in the cancer tumour to predict the risk of it coming back and whether chemotherapy would help.
Four provinces, including Ontario and Quebec have funded the test for several years. But in B.C., most patients who want the genomic test have to pay for it themselves.
Last year, Eleonore Hamm was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer after a regular mammogram. She had surgery to remove the tumour, but was concerned about the prospect of chemotherapy.
“I was really worried about how it would affect me short term and long term -- how my family would deal with it, how my body would take it,” said the 45-year-old mother of two.
Hamm’s oncologist told her about the OncotypeDX test, but was stunned at the price tag: $4,000. Because it wasn’t funded by the government, the Hamms decided to pay for it themselves. She was relieved when the results came in. “It told me that the risks involved with chemo would be much greater than the benefit,” says Hamm. She was able to safely skip it.
Hamm wants the government to begin funding the test as soon as possible.
“It’s a great tool. It’s disappointing that some people don’t have access to it because of the funds,” she said.
A BC study, found that when the test was provided, it dramatically changed treatment for many women. Twenty per-cent of the patients opted out of chemo after they received their results. Ten per-cent decided to have chemotherapy. That study was done in 2012 and the BC Cancer Agency has been considering whether it should be funded ever since.
“I’d like to see the test funded as soon as possible. I understand there are steps to go through and they are happening right now,” says oncologist Dr. Stephen Chia. Chia predicts it would reduce the over treatment of cancer patients. “You will see less use of chemotherapy over time.”
Eleonore Hamm says sparing women unnecessary treatment is worth the investment. “If you think of the impact economically and the quality of life for these women – several months of treatment and the recuperating. It can take months, years. It’s time you don’t get back.” says Hamm.