Cancer patients ask Alberta to review stance on costly drug
Last Updated: Tuesday, April 22, 2008 | 12:41 PM ET
A letter-writing campaign by the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada targets provinces, including Alberta, that refuse to pay for an expensive cancer drug.
Avastin can prolong some people's lives for five months and others for as long as two years by restricting blood flow to tumours, according to the national group. But the treatment for advanced colorectal cancer costs thousands of dollars a month, which Alberta's drug plan does not cover.
'I don't think I would be alive today without it.'—Robert Jerrard, cancer patient
Robert Jerrard, who lives in Edmonton, is paying about $5,200 per month out of his own pocket for Avastin.
"I don't think I would be alive today without it," he told CBC News. "I'm still here two years later after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, and I don't think most people survive that long."
Jerrard can't understand why a province as rich as Alberta refuses to cover the cancer drug when Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and British Columbia pay for it.
Cost too high, benefits too small: province
Gayle St. Croix, a communications associate with the Alberta Cancer Board, said the goverment-funded agency is not pushing for Avastin funding because of the tremendous cost, potential side effects and evidence that suggested the survival benefit is small.
The province has no plans to review its July 2005 decision not to cover the drug, said Howard May, spokesman for Alberta Health and Wellness.
Barry Stein, president of the colorectal cancer association, admits the drug doesn't work for everyone but he says it can shrink tumours so effectively that some people can have them surgically removed.
"Why shouldn't Alberta citizens be entitled to this? Why should they have to spend that kind of money for a medication that is effective?" he said.
The association kicked off a letter-writing campaign this month, targeting provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, that do not have Avastin in their drug plans.
2nd biggest cancer killer in Alberta
About 1,750 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Alberta this year, with 650 estimated to die from the disease, according to the group. Colorectal cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the province, behind lung cancer.
Calgarian Janel Martinkowski, whose husband has cancer, has started an online petition calling on the province to rethink its position.
"It's been five years since Health Canada approved this for treatment and when you've got provinces like Newfoundland and now Saskatchewan funding it, Alberta absolutely should fund it," she said.
"There needs to be a standard of cancer care across the country. It shouldn't be that depending on what province you live in, you get different levels of treatment."With files from Jennifer Lee