B.C. Cancer will start sending eligible breast and prostate cancer patients to Washington state for radiation treatments beginning at the end of this month as part of a two-year temporary initiative to reduce wait times.
Patients will be offered the choice of going to one of two clinics in Bellingham — at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Centre and the North Cascade Cancer Centre — starting May 29.
Patients will have all costs related to their treatment covered, including travel, meals and accommodation, through B.C. Cancer and the Provincial Health Services Authority, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a news conference Monday.
“Emergency or unplanned treatment and associated hospital costs will be 100 per cent covered for patients,” said Dix.
A B.C. Cancer support team will help patients by arranging appointments, co-ordinating travel plans and greeting them when they return to their regional B.C. Cancer centre.
Dix said the goal is to support patients while the province expands cancer services and hires more cancer care staff.
In 2021, more than 30,000 people in B.C. were newly diagnosed with cancer. Dix says 82.9 per cent of radiation patients start treatment within four weeks, and 95 per cent within six weeks.
Dix said the challenges for the rest include staffing and equipment. B.C. has 31 linear accelerators but needs more, and is actively trying to recruit and retain radiation technologists and oncologists.
The minister said some of the waits for breast and prostate cancer radiation are unacceptable and “we must do more.
It’s estimated that 4,800 patients will use the Bellingham option over the two-year program. During the same period, B.C. is expected to see approximately 1,000 new patients requiring radiation treatment
The temporary cross-border radiation treatment initiative will first focus on breast cancer and prostate cancer patients, who are the largest patient populations receiving radiation therapy, and wait the longest for treatment, said Dix. Adding other patient groups will be reviewed after the initial group is addressed.
B.C. Cancer chief medical officer Dr. Kim Chi said by offering the Washington state option, the agency can increase its capacity to deliver radiation therapy by an additional 50 people per week.
The province announced a 10-year cancer plan in February called B.C.’s Cancer Care Action Plan to better prevent, detect, and treat cancers now and in the future.
The plan says it will make investments in research, technology, and innovation and increase and add more cancer centres across B.C. — work is underway for new cancer centres in Burnaby and Surrey— adding new diagnostic equipment and hiring new physicians and clinical support staff.
Since 2021, the province has eliminated the 4,000-person waiting list for the Hereditary Cancer Program, launched a lung cancer screening program, and launched the first at-home human papillomavirus (HPV) cervix screening pilots.
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