The Ontario government said Monday it plans to expand access to certain cancer medications for patients who may benefit from the drugs but who do not meet strict clinical guidelines for their use.


Anzarut, a 35-year-old mother of two, was considering paying $40,000 to have the drug administered at a private clinic. (CBC)

The move comes in response to the controversy over Herceptin, a potentially life-saving cancer treatment shown to reduce the recurrence of cancer by more than half for women undergoing chemotherapy.

In February, Jill Anzarut filed a complaint with Ontario's ombudsman after the provincial health insurance program determined that a cancerous tumour in her breast was too small to qualify for funding for Herceptin treatment.

By policy, the province would only pay for Herceptin for patients whose tumours are larger than one centimetre, because clinical trials had only been performed on patients with tumours that size and larger.

Private clinic

Anzarut, a 35-year-old mother of two, was considering paying $40,000 out of her own pocket to have the drug administered at a private clinic. Anzarut is not due to start Herceptin until May.

"It's one thing to be battling breast cancer and now I've been battling access for funding to the drug as well," she said.

A news release issued on Monday by Ontario's Health Ministry on Monday said the province would expand coverage for cancer drugs "where emerging evidence shows strong promise to benefit patients."

The release does not mention Herceptin specifically, but it's believed Anzarut's case would be covered by the new program intended to give cancer patients access to more treatment options "where there is evolving evidence demonstrating clinical benefit beyond the current criteria."

The program guidelines will be completed in May, according to the health ministry's release.

Case-by-case basis 

Anzarut told CBC News on Monday she's happy the government will expand access to the drugs on a case-by-case basis.

"At no point did I ever say, 'let's open the floodgates and give everyone access to this drug,'" said Anzarut. "I was always maintaining that the best scenario would be a case-by-case evaluation."

Patients with tumours smaller than one centimetre can get Herceptin coverage in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan and on a case-by-case basis in other provinces.

For now, she's buoyed by Monday's news which means hundreds of people currently missing out on cancer drugs could get treatment.

"I'll look back on this and see that a change was made that didn't just impact me but impacts every cancer patient in Ontario and I'm proud of that now," she said.