New Test For Cancers Sufferers Should Be More Widely Available

A molecular test that analyzed a piece of Coree Hanczyk's breast tumour told her something no oncologist in the Canadian health-care system could – she didn't require chemotherapy after all.

And she paid for it out of pocket: Ms. Hanczyk had a chunk of tumour couriered from a Toronto hospital to a California laboratory, where the test cost her $3,776 (U.S.). In so doing, she saved medicare an estimated $10,000 in unnecessary treatment and spared herself such gruelling side effects as nausea and hair loss.

The test, whose analysis of 21 genes can help predict whether a cancer is likely to return within the next decade, represents an emerging field of personalized medicine that is moving at such velocity that sluggish health-care bureaucracies can't keep pace.

“I watched my mom die because of the chemotherapy; it completely shut her body down, organ by organ,” said Ms. Hanczyk, a 45-year-old flight attendant who lives outside Toronto. “… This test has been a godsend to me.”

Each year, more than 12,000 Canadian women find themselves in the same medical grey zone: In cases of small, estrogen-receptor positive tumours, with lymph nodes free of cancer, chemotherapy is beneficial to only a few – but determining who they are is often impossible.

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By Lisa Priest
Globe & Mail