A new report says Canadian cancer patients need to have fair and equal access to the newest forms of “targeted therapy” when it comes to cancer drugs and testing, so that patients across the county can get the best care and treatment.

In its annual Report Card on Cancer in Canada, the Cancer Advocacy Coalition of Canada highlights that there have been great strides in developing better, more efficient and cost-effective cancer treatments in recent years.

For example, a number of “targeted therapies” are revolutionizing cancer treatment in Canada. These include drugs such as Gleevec for treating some forms of leukemia; Herceptin, for some forms of breast cancer; and Erbitux for some forms of colon cancer.

But each of these drugs requires biomarker testing to ensure they are offered to the appropriate patients. For example, Herceptin works only on breast cancer tumours that test positive for a protein called HER-2.

The report card found there is great inconsistency in government funding these tests and therapies across the country. It called for more regulatory approval and funding of precision medicine, to ensure that the most effective treatment is given to the right patient, at the right time.

Helping smokers quit

The report card also looked at efforts to help smokers quit, in order cut the death rates and the costs from smoking-related cancers. It found there are lots of inconsistencies in how provinces and territories are funding these efforts.

While the prevalence of smoking in Canada has decreased significantly over the past two decades, the quit rate has leveled off over the last five years.

The report notes prescription medications and nicotine replacement therapies are known to be among the most cost-effective methods for helping smokers. And yet many Canadians simply can’t afford these drugs because they aren’t covered either by their provinces or their health-insurance plans.

The Atlantic provinces are in a particularly dire situation, the report says.

Two provinces -- Newfoundland and New Brunswick -- do not publicly fund either nicotine-replacement or smoking-cessation drugs. And yet these two provinces have smoking rates that are higher than the national average.

“It is difficult to understand why all provinces and territories in Canada publicly fund medications to treat hypertension and high cholesterol, but have not elected to pay for pharmaceutical interventions to promote smoking cessation” the authors write.

The cost of funding smoking-cessation products in these provinces would be a fraction of the money the provinces take in every year from tobacco sales, the report notes, and would be easily offset by the decrease in the costs of smoking to society.

It says employers should also expand group benefit plans to include smoking-cessation treatments. They say that the money needed to pay for smoking-cessation drugs is tiny compared to the billions spent on prescription drugs covered for the treatment of smoking-related illnesses, such as high blood pressure.

Second-hand smoke in cars

Finally, the report card also looked at how well bans against smoking in vehicles with children are working.

The analysis found that the bans have been quite successful in reducing kids’ exposure to second-hand smoke. What`s more, the bans on smoking in cars haven`t caused smokers to light up more at home.

Almost every province in the country has a ban on smoking cars when children are present, with the exception of Quebec.

“Given that (second-hand smoke) exposure is very harmful to children, who are unable to protect themselves and that this policy has proved effective, it might be the right time for other jurisdictions to adopt this law to eliminate a channel through which children are often exposed to (second-hand smoke),” the authors write.