Prince Edward Island is the worst province in the country when it comes to covering drugs for women with stage four breast cancer, according to a new report.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Network study shows P.E.I. only pays for one of four drugs recommended by the pan-Canadian Oncology Drug Review, a national cancer drug review process.
"We can't afford to lose lives," said Lori Barker, with the Canadian Cancer Society on P.E.I.
"The biggest responsibility of government to do is ensure that at least we are on par with our neighbouring provinces."
The province started covering the drug Perjeta earlier this year, but still doesn't cover Halaven, Afinitor, or Kadcyla.
Nova Scotia funds all four drugs, while New Brunswick covers three — Afinitor, Kadcyla and Perjeta.
The Island is tied with Newfoundland and Labrador for the highest mortality rate in the country for women with breast cancer, 22 per cent higher than the national average. The latest statistics estimate that 25 Island women will die this year from breast cancer.
Barker said the forumarly should be updated at least twice a year, and the process for adding drugs needs to be improved.
"It's just a matter of the process we have in place here," she said.
"It does seem to be more cumbersome, more bureaucratic."
'It's a death sentence'
Islander Sharon MacNeill was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer 2½ years ago — before P.E.I. added the $70,000-a-year drug Perjeta to its coverage — but was covered through her private drug plan.
MacNeill doesn't think she would have survived without the drug, saying her nurses didn't think she would make it to Christmas after her 2013 diagnosis.
"It's a death sentence," she said.
"At a time when you're that vulnerable, to fight for a drug and for your life too, it's really bitter when you know that other women don't have to. It's a bitter pill to swallow."
MacNeill's oncologist recently told her he expects she could survive another two years, but MacNeill is hoping for longer.
P.E.I. Health Minister Doug Currie takes advice from a provincial committee on which drugs should be listed.
He defended the province's record, noting it had added 46 new cancer medicines in the last eight years.
"We will be rolling out a renewed cancer control strategy which will continue to support and focus new cancer oncology drugs to the formulary," he said.
That new 10-year strategy should be released soon, according to Currie.