Breast cancer $17.5 million

Breast cancel lawsuit settled
$17.5-million is the settlement reached in Newfoundland and Labrador for breast cancer patients who did not receive appropriate treatment due to errors made by the Eastern Health testing lab. This lab was responsible for testing the patients' hormone levels, which would determine treatment going forward.

The public inquiry into the errors at the lab in 2007 produced a damning report that found poor quality-control measures in place. This report also concluded that there was little accountability and a lack of checks and balances at all levels of the provincial health system. These failures contributed to incorrect test results over an eight-year period and in turn, incorrect treatment.

This led to needlessly harsh treatment for hundreds of breast cancer patients. In some of the cases misdiagnosed patients underwent unnecessary treatments. Some of these treatments included radiation therapy or surgery, and chemotherapy. A proper diagnosis would have indicated that only medication was needed. It may also have contributed to approximately 100 fatalities.

Lawsuits are most often settled prior to trial. This agreement between Eastern Health Corp. and breast cancer patients in the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, came from three days of supervised mediation. The mediation was overseen by former Ontario Superior Court judge George Adams. The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador stillhas to give approval and distribution to individuals will be determined at that time.

How did this occur?
The procedure is that doctors usually order hormone receptor tests for newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients. These test results help them to determine the best course of treatment. The patients with tumors that test positive for estrogen and progesterone, will generally have a better prognosis in part, because these tumors grow more slowly.

In addition the patients whose tumors are being strengthened by estrogen and progesterone, can be treated with anti-estrogen drugs, such as Anastrozole and Tamoxifen. Unfortunately, the patients with negative test results generally have to resort to treatments which include chemotherapy and radiation. It is important that the results of the tests are correct, or undue suffering can certainly occur.

The basis of the suit is that at least 425 breast cancer patients were given inaccurate hormone test results, between 1997 and 2005. Some of these patients underwent chemotherapy and surgery, when their cancer could likely have been treated with anti-estrogen drugs. About 2,000 people brought the suit forward.

Fatalities occurred
It is sad to note that 100 patients who received incorrect results have died. No one can say that the correct testing would not have helped save their lives. It may not have helped, but they did not get the chance.

It's more than money that's involved
The settlement also mandates the creation of a panel to implement recommended changes to Eastern Health's breast cancer protocol. Part of the terms of the agreement is, that victims of Eastern Health's botched tests will be given seats on the committee. There will be a report on the panel's progress in 2012. Another part of the settlement is, that Eastern Health is also required to construct a memorial and issue a public apology.

Eastern Regional Integrated Health has broadcast that apology. The actual details of how the money will be disbursed, as well as how much will be picked up by Eastern Health insurer Healthcare Insurance Reciprocal of Canada, won't be announced until the settlement is formally approved, by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The insurance answer
The money will not help those who have lost loved ones. It is interesting that there is an ongoing committee and that part of the award is the memorial. It is a tragedy for everyone, including Eastern Regional Integrated Health. It is fortunate, that there is some financial compensation as well.