B.C. to send cancer patients to U.S. for treatment

In response to long delays in treatment, the B.C. government says some cancer patients will be sent to facilities in the United States.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced Monday that up to 50 cancer patients weekly can be sent to Bellingham, Washington for radiation therapy. Starting May 29, eligible patients will have the option to travel to either PeaceHealth St. Joseph Cancer Centre or the North Cascade Cancer Centre for the treatment.

“We connect patients with the care they need whether that care is in their community, another health authority, or beyond our provincial borders,” he said during a news conference.

“Using this additional, available capacity beyond a patient’s B.C. health authority in Bellingham will help B.C. reduce radiation therapy wait times for breast and prostate cancer patients.”

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The health minister cited figures from BC Cancer which suggest the province could have up to 45,000 cancer patients by 2034, an increase from 30,000 in 2021, with half of cancer patients needing radiation as a treatment.

“This increase in cancer diagnoses puts pressure on our cancer treatment resources including our radiation treatment resources,” he said.

Dix says due to upgrades to equipment at some B.C. facilities, plus hiring and retention issues with technicians and oncologists, the province has not been able to meet its benchmark for providing radiation treatment in a timely manner.

“Across most categories in B.C., we’ve been making significant improvements in reducing wait times. However, with respect to radiation therapy, that is not the case,” he said.

He says the province will cover the cost of food, accommodation, and travel for patients and a caregiver heading over the border for treatment.

The cross-border program will be in place for two years, during which time the province expects 4,800 patients to benefit. Additionally, the province notes that there are expected to be 1,000 new patients needing radiation in that time.

Meantime, Dix stresses that the province will continue to address the staffing challenges, pointing to initiatives aimed at boosting pay for radiation therapy technicians and oncologists.

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