“Six extra months of progression-free disease – wow, I don’t think I could properly explain the elation, sense of hope and relief, especially when that [opportunity] comes after a previous treatment has been discontinued because the disease has progressed.” 

( quote from the CBCN/Rethink Breast Cancer report, Metastatic Breast Cancer in Canada: The Lived Experience of Patients and Caregivers)

Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate promising new treatment options. They are part of the evidence-gathering process that takes place before a drug or treatment can be approved by Health Canada.  Clinical trials are a way for you to access new drugs that may have the potential to lengthen your life or improve the quality of your life.You are also helping others by contributing to the field of medical research when you participate in a clinical trial.

Ask your doctor about clinical trials that may be available to you.  Trials have specific eligibility requirements and your type of cancer or past treatments may exclude you from participating in a certain trial. Your doctor will help you understand the process involved, as well as the specific advantages and disadvantages of any particular trial. Once you have been accepted into a clinical trial, you will have to follow the precise guidelines of the study. You may withdraw from the study at any time, for any reason.

Participating in a clinical trial is voluntary and there is no treatment cost.  You cannot choose the treatment you are going to receive: you may get the experimental treatment, the standard treatment to which it is being compared, or a placebo. Although a placebo is an inactive substance, the standard cancer treatment would still be given with it. The use of a placebo in cancer trials is rare. You may find a benefit in the close monitoring that is provided to clinical trial participants.   If you receive the experimental treatment, you may also experience some unanticipated side effects.  You must report these to your health care team.

You can learn which trials are recruiting patients at Canadian Cancer Trials, an online national database of cancer clinical trials in Canada.

Questions to ask if you are thinking about volunteering for a clinical trial:  

  • How exactly does this new treatment work on my cancer?
  • How will my treatment plan differ from standard treatment?
  • How, where and when do I receive treatment?
  • What about side effects?  How will I be monitored?
  • How do the risks and benefits compare with other treatments?
  • Will there be other costs (accommodation, childcare, transportation, etc.) that I will need to consider when I am in the trial?
Not all drugs that are approved by Health Canada are publically funded. Each province or territory has its own publically-funded prescription drug benefit program for eligible patients. The list of drugs that are publically funded may differ across Canada. The criteria that allow you to access these drugs through public insurance may also differ.

If you do not meet the criteria established by your province or territory’s prescription drug benefit program, you may need to seek other payment alternatives such as private health care insurance or pay for the medication yourself.

Ask your physician if your treatment is covered by public health insurance and find out if any other treatment options exist if you have private health insurance. Depending on your plan, private insurance may help fill the gaps left by public insurance.

Ask your employer about your private plan coverage details. Your Human Resources manager can contact the insurance company and request treatment coverage.  If the company plan does not cover your treatment, they may be able to ask that an exception be made in this instance. Ask your private insurance company directly.You can have your physician write a letter of appeal to the insurance company.  If you are part of a patient support group, ask others about their experiences.

If you don’t have private insurance and your treatment isn’t covered by public health insurance

  • Certain drugs may be covered through special drug company assistance programs or through special authorization from your doctor.
  • Have your doctor write an appeal letter to the drug program giving all the reasons why this medication is necessary for you.
  • Contact your provincial Minister of Health, MLA or MPP regarding your situation and request that the drug be covered for you.
  • Contact patient groups such as Canadian Breast Cancer Network or Rethink Breast Cancer to inform them of your situation and inquire about how they may be able to help you access treatment.
  • Visit drugcoverage.ca to find out the details of drug coverage in Canada.

(Source: CBCN publication Who Pays for Drugs in Canada? )

The Canadian Breast Cancer Network (CBCN) is the leading survivor-directed, national network of organizations and individuals concerned about breast cancer. The Canadian Breast Cancer Network exists to voice the concerns of breast cancer survivors and promote the best quality of care for all Canadians affected by breast cancer through information sharing, education and advocacy.

Toll-free: 1.800.685.8820
Email: cbcn@cbcn.ca