Study shows P.E.I. falling behind in access to cancer drugs

Maureen Coulter
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Sharon MacNeill has stage four breast cancer and has been taking Perjeta and Herceptin since 2013. Her private health care covered the cost of Perjeta, which was just added to the provincial formulary in April 2015. 

Sharon MacNeill went through a series of emotions when she learned she is dying of cancer.

One that stuck with her for a long time was denial.

MacNeill was told in 2013 she had less than two years to live.

She believes the only reason why she is here today is because of the targeted therapy she received, which was funded through private health care.

MacNeill, of Lot 16, is on Perjeta and Herceptin, which are two stage four metastatic cancer drugs.

Perjeta was just added to the provincial formulary in April.

She says these two medications work well together in blocking the cancer cells and help give people a little more time.

There is no cure for this diagnosis.

“I’m doing well,” said MacNeill. “I’m very lucky I have drugs that are very specific to my pathology.”

A recent study by the Canadian Breast Cancer Network shows P.E.I. has the worst access to stage four cancer drugs in the 10 Canadian provinces.

A metastatic patient in Prince Edward Island only has access to one of the four recommended drugs by the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review.

New Brunswick covers three of the drugs, Afinitor, Perjeta and Kadcyla, while Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador cover all four.

Judy Donovan Whitty, who is on the Canadian Breast Cancer Network board representing P.E.I., said it is unethical to have these inequities across the provinces.

“It’s devastating to families and the patient to know that there is a drug out there that is essential and that it’s available in another province but inaccessible to them.”

Whitty, a two-time cancer survivor, said without private health insurance, many of these treatments are unaffordable.

“They are forced to either endure substantial debt or financial hardship to pay for the treatment or endure worse health outcomes while they wait for the treatment to become accessible.”

MacNeill said she is not sure what she would have done if she didn’t have private health care to cover the expense.

“It is disappointing when you know that there is a drug out there that could give you life that you might not get it because your province doesn’t cover it.”

Though MacNeill’s recent results show she is stable, she still has viable tumours.

If the two cancer drugs she is on now were to stop working, her next step would be Kadcyla, a drug she may not be able to obtain, even through her private health care.

“I think about what’s next for me quite often and I spend time each week researching what’s new,” said MacNeill.

MacNeill said she doesn’t fault Health P.E.I., saying Islanders receive the best treatment in terms of drugs that are offered in this province.

She feels the only way forward would be to have a national pharmacare plan.

Without it, she feels P.E.I. will always be playing catch up to the rest of the country.

“It’s scary at times,” she said, “thinking about running out of options.”


Breast cancer report

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network recent report shows P.E.I. has the worst access to stage four cancer drugs in the 10 Canadian provinces. To access the full report visit and click on reports.

Organizations: Canadian Oncology Drug Review, Canadian Breast Cancer Network board

Geographic location: Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Fay Mallett
    November 28, 2015 - 15:07

    Sharon is my best friend and I am still in denial about losing her to cancer. I live in Victoria B.C. and cannot get to PEI as often as I would like to. It is very hard when you can't be there to help someone you love. She is one of the bravest and smartest women I have ever known and she the best advocate for treatment in PEI. I hope that her oncologist appreciates what a wonderful person she is and that he gives her every opportunity to continue her life and supports her every way possible.