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39 Quebecers wrongly treated for breast cancer

QUEBEC CITY – Thirty-nine Quebec women with breast cancer did not receive the right chemotherapy treatment because of erroneous pathology tests, the province’s health ministry has confirmed.

Of those 39 women, five have died since the faulty tests were revealed earlier this year.

Quebec health officials revealed the results of the breast cancer retests earlier this month, six months after the province promised to review the pathology results for some 3,000 women in the province.

Officials, including Quebec Health Minister Yves Bolduc (pictured), said women and families affected by erroneous testing would be fully informed of the situation. Earlier media reports indicated the government was not going to contact families of patients who had died during retesting for “compassionate reasons.”

The treatment received by thousands of women was questioned earlier this year, after a report from a Quebec pathologist suggested there were disparities in their breast cancer tests.

Last summer, Quebec’s Health Ministry confirmed that as many as 3,000 pathology tests done between April 2008 and June 2009 may have been mishandled

The tests are done to determine the appropriate course of chemotherapy treatment according to the type of breast cancer.

In recent years, cases of errors made in pathology have emerged in other provinces, as well. Laboratory science analysts have commented that Canadian provinces have pared too much funding from lab testing and need to invest more in human resources, technology and quality control.

Robert Michel, editor of the Dark Report and an international laboratory management analyst, commented at a conference in Toronto in the fall: “For the last two decades, Canada has underfunded lab medicine, and we’re now seeing the disruption that happens.”

He outlined some of the lab catastrophes that have occurred in recent years in Canadian provinces:

• 2005: breast cancer testing errors in Newfoundland and Labrador;
• 2008: pathology testing problems in Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick;
• 2009: breast cancer testing problems in Quebec, with serious quality defects.

Posted Dec. 24, 2009