St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie led the class-action suit over problems with cancer testing in Newfoundland and Labrador. ((CBC))

A Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador judge has approved a $17.5-million settlement in the class-action suit over errors in breast cancer testing conducted in the province between 1997 and 2005.

Estrogen receptor and progesterone receptor, or ER/PR, tests are used to determine what type of breast cancer — either hormone receptor negative or positive — a patient has.

The settlement was reached with the province's largest health authority, Eastern Health, in October and was presented to a Judge Carl Thompson on Feb. 2. He approved it Feb.12.

The class action included more than 2,800 people, who for the purposes of the settlement payout are broken down into five categories:

  • People whose test results changed from negative to positive and who did not receive timely hormone therapy and suffered a breast cancer recurrence within 10 years of the original diagnosis get $75,000.
  • People whose test results changed from negative to positive and who did not receive timely hormone therapy and had stage IV breast cancer at the time of initial testing or had not suffered a breast cancer recurrence get $15,000.
  • People whose test results changed from positive to negative as set out in the settlement and who received hormone therapy get $10,000.
  • People who don't fit in either category but who suffered a psychological injury as defined in the settlement get $5,000.
  • All other members of the class action get $1,000.

If a patient has died, the money goes to that person's estate.

There are no separate payments for family members of people involved in the suit.

More than $5 million of the $17.5 million will go to the lawyers representing the breast cancer patients, many of whom died before the settlement was reached.

Eastern Health first started sending ER/PR tests out of the province in 2005 after doctors began questioning the way the tests were being done in N.L.

The results of hormone receptor tests are used to help determine the course of treatment and can influence the outcome of treatment.

If a patient's tumour is hormone receptor positive, the individual may be given an antihormonal treatment, such as Tamoxifen.

Thousands of results of ER/PR tests done in N.L. from 1997 to 2005 were sent out of the province for retesting. Independent laboratories found 425 of the results were wrong. More than 100 patients had their course of treatment changed as a result of those findings.