6 top health stories of 2013

Genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer mutations, overdiluted chemotherapy and a delay in informing Canadians about a birth control pill recall were among the top health topics of 2013.

What happened after birth control pill recalls, Angelina Jolie's genetic test left the headlines

Genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer mutations, overdiluted chemotherapy and a delay in informing Canadians about a birth control pill recall were among the top health topics of 2013.

Here are the stories as chosen by editors at CBC's Health Content Unit, in no particular order.

1) Chemotherapy underdosing

The announcement in April that 1,176 people with cancer in Ontario and New Brunswick received chemotherapy that was overdiluted shocked Canadians across the country,  exposed a gap in regulatory oversight for some companies preparing the drugs  and highlighted how hospitals in several provinces rely on outsourcing for their supplies. 

In August, an expert who looked into the chemotherapy drug scare recommended that Health Canada should regulate all entities that mix drugs outside a licensed pharmacy. The Ontario government and Ontario College of Pharmacists acted on recommendations to license all pharmacies operating within the province's clinics or hospitals and to license and annually inspect pharmacies that prepare large volume non-sterile and sterile products.

2) Angelina Jolie

Actress and director Angelina Jolie was the top searched keyword on in 2013. In May, Jolie announced in the New York Times she carries the BRCA1 genetic mutation linked to cancer and had a preventive double mastectomy. Some genetic testing clinics said they received more calls after the announcement.

Provincial governments will cover the cost of the test, but only if the individual meets specific criteria. The Canadian-developed genetic test was also at issue in a U.S. court battle.

3) Rate My Hospital

CBC's the fifth estate launched an interactive tool that allows patients to rate the quality of care in their hospitals. After a nine-month quest to uncover data about Canadian hospitals' performance and make it public, Rate My Hospital offered unprecedented access to information about hospitals across the country.

4) Birth control pill recalls

Health Canada did not notify the media and the public of Apotex's recall of its Alysena 28 birth control pills until April 8, despite learning of the company's actions four days earlier, according to an independent review. In response, Health Minister Rona Ambrose said her department will work with industry to ensure they provide early notification of any drug recalls.

The issue behind the recall was one lot contained too little active drug and too much placebo, which increases the risk of an unplanned pregnancy. Another contraceptive, Freya-28, was also recalled across Canada after a pharmacy reported a placebo pill was misplaced in one package. Mylan Pharmaceuticals, the distributor of Freya-28, expanded the recall to include Esme-28 as a precaution after it was unable to rule out that the packaging error also affected that product.

5) Paying for plasma

Canada's proposed move away from an altruistic donation model and towards compensating Canadians for plasma used to make expensive intravenous drugs raised questions about potential effects on the whole blood donor system, safety and supply and demand of raw plasma.

Health Canada said it is reviewing feedback from a recent public consultation process and a report is expected to be be available early in 2014.

6) MS vein unblocking

A series of studies in 2013 debunked Italian Paolo Zamboni's belief that clearing blocked or narrowed neck veins could relieve symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

One study by Dr. Anthony Traboulsee, medical director of the UBC Hospital MS Clinic in Vancouver concluded the prevalence of narrowing was similar in those with MS, their siblings and unrelated controls. In another, professor emeritus Ian Rodger of McMaster University and his team found no evidence of abnormalities in head or neck veins of 99 adults with MS compared with 100 healthy controls.

Results from a clinical trial into unblocking veins, also conducted by Traboulsee, is expected in the fall of 2015.