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Why this cancer website is a ‘game changer’

Decreasing anxiety, expense and suboptimal care of cancer patients is the goal of a new website tracking the inconsistent availability of cancer drugs by province across the country.

Launched by the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada, the free site reveals the access to and funding for drugs for current cancer treatment, as well as their usage by type of cancer and when they were approved by Health Canada. There is no information for the territories.

"It's going to be a game changer," said Dr. David Saltman, staff medical oncologist at the B.C. Cancer Agency.

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The Canadian Cancer Society estimates 187,600 cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2013. The leading cancers for men are prostrate, lung and colorectal; for women, the most common are breast, lung and colorectal.

The website, which is still under construction, brings to light the inequities between provinces. For example, one drug may only be available during certain stages of treatment, only to certain patient groups, or in limited centres. Not all cancer drug information is publicly available, and some governments and/or cancer agencies have just not come to a conclusion about whether they will fund a certain drug.

Saltman said the hope is to crowdsource further information for the site from patients and cancer advocacy groups. Once someone sends information in, it will be verified before being added to the site.

The goal of this resource is for patients, families of patients, physicians, pharmacists, hospital administrators and health ministry officials to have a place to go to compare access to these drugs across the country. Saltman hopes that the site eventually makes provinces aware of where they are lacking in comparison with other provinces.

"Making these things public is – maybe embarrassing is not the word – but it's a wake-up call," he said.

Saltman said it's not uncommon for people to move to a different province if they need a drug that isn't funded in the province they currently live in. They must be living in the new province for three months before they can apply to get the drug, so many people quit their jobs and move across the country.

Saltman said he hopes the inequity in cancer drug access could become a focal point during elections.

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