Yukon residents receiving medical care in B.C. can take advantage of a newly announced provincial program to send cancer patients to the U.S., a spokesperson for the province’s Department of Health Services told CTVNews.ca.
Last week, the BC government unveiled its new plans to send up to 50 BC residents a week to clinics in Bellingham, Washington for radiation treatment. Starting from May 29, this initiative is planned to last for two years.
“If a patient from the Yukon is referred to BC Cancer, they will be screened by their physician for eligibility for an out-of-country radiation therapy program,” a PHSA spokesperson wrote in an email Tuesday.
Many northerners are forced to travel to B.C. or Alberta for medical treatment due to limited resources in the area.
According to a survey by the territory’s Department of Health and Human Services, 3,961 Yukoners traveled on the territory’s medical travel program between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019. This includes Yukoners who traveled for their own medical needs, as well as those who traveled to accompany a child or dependent or as an approved travel companion.
Approximately 170 people in the Yukon are diagnosed with cancer each year, a PHSA spokeswoman said, although not all require radiation therapy services through BC Cancer.
Karin Stevens, a member of Paddlers Abreast, a group of breast cancer survivors from northern BC and the Yukon, says the hardest part of the process is the current long wait times for treatment.
While his own experience in 2007 involved a relatively short wait between chemo and radiation, Stevens acknowledged that others face much more difficult circumstances.
“For some, it was quick, and of course, COVID has made the wait deadly in more ways than one,” he told CTVNews.ca on the instant messaging platform Tuesday.
Underscoring the urgency of the problem, Stevens shared the story of a late neighbor who waited weeks for an X-ray in the Yukon, followed by another month in B.C.
NEW TEST COULD REDUCE TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS
There is a glimmer of hope for reducing the need for medical travel for Yukoners.
Shawn Secord, co-chair of Ride for Dad Yukon, said access to health care is more difficult for people living in the north because most professionals are thousands of kilometers away.
“The number of people that have to go out [of the Yukon] for urology needs or prostate cancer needs are kind of abysmal,” he told CTVNews.ca by phone last Thursday.
Secord shared that the organization has raised more than a million dollars for cancer research. This funding is being used to support Nanostics’ introduction of ClarityDx, a blood test to detect aggressive cancers in men.
“Maybe (we can) send blood out of the area instead of patients,” he says, hoping the test could provide more accurate prostate cancer diagnosis for Yukon men.
Secord says the new test will be available for private purchase this year.