The retesting of close to 3,000 breast cancer patients in Quebec concluded that the vast majority received the right prognosis and proper treatment, according to the analysis by an American laboratory, which was released Wednesday by the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Yet a total of 87 women received a false negative result in the pathology laboratory tests they underwent for breast cancer. Of this number, 39 were required to alter their treatment because of a faulty prognosis and among them five women died.
Minister of Health Yves Bolduc said it was impossible to determine whether the women died as a result of being improperly treated.
"Of the five (dead) women, two were undergoing re-analysis and three others were people with an advanced disease," said Mr. Bolduc, noting that 25-per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer die each year.
Mr. Bolduc said the families of the five women who died of the test results will be informed of the results. It was reported this week that his ministry sent out a directive to withhold the information, creating a backlash among patients' rights groups and charges of a cover-up.
The minister argued that the pathology tests were never 100-per-cent accurate and that deaths related to breast cancer would occur regardless of the accuracy of the prognosis. The $800,000 that it cost to re-test 2,856 women by the Seattle based Pheno-Path Laboratories showed that Quebec had among the best laboratories in the world, according to Mr. Bolduc.
The Quebec government is threatened with a class action suit by a group of patients who contend they received a faulty prognosis and didn't receive the treatment.
Some cases were reanalyzed for negative hormone receptors and others involved the HER-2 marker that determines the Herceptin treatment. The cases that came under review included those where pathology analysis were conducted between April 1 2008 and June 1 2009.
The government came under attack last June, accused of being negligent and of misinforming the public. The controversy erupted over reports on a study by the provinces' pathologists showing discrepancies in the laboratory tests conducted on breast cancer patients.
The experts acknowledged there were anomalies in the laboratory results but at a percentage that would be found in any other province or country. At the time the government experts argued that the situation had been largely exaggerated and was based on a faulty interpretation of the pathologists' report.
The Seattle-based laboratory results clearly indicated, according to Mr. Bolduc, that Quebec pathology laboratories had conducted their work properly. The percentage of errors made by Quebec laboratories were well under the levels of those reported by similar laboratories in the world, the Minister said.