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The Financial Burden of Cancer Medications; What the US Needs to Learn from Canada

written by Dr. Christine Bishara - May 13, 2024

The cost of cancer drugs in the United States has been skyrocketing, significantly outpacing growth in household incomes since 1975. Launch prices for new cancer drugs have increased dramatically. Over half of new drugs approved from 2009 to 2014 were priced at more than $100,000 per patient for one year of treatment. This rise in prices poses a significant burden on patients and society, with costs accelerating faster than other components of cancer care. The United States faces challenges in ensuring affordable access to high-value cancer drugs, especially as the number of cancer cases is expected to rise with an aging population.

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In this article, we will delve into the factors contributing to the significant rise in prices of cancer drugs and explore the implications for what it means for you. We will conduct a price comparison with popular cancer drugs here in the US and Canada, provide a comparative overview and offer practical tips to navigate this challenging landscape. By examining the root causes behind the soaring prices of cancer medications, we aim to empower you with valuable insights and actionable strategies to better understand and manage these financial burdens.


What is behind the skyrocketing prices for cancer drugs? These can be attributed to several key factors:

Monopoly: The high cost of cancer drugs is often attributed to monopolies, where there are limited or no alternatives for new drugs, especially in the case of cancer treatments where each drug must be used sequentially, leading to a lack of price competition. Efforts to Protest High Cancer Drug Prices Underway | ASH Clinical News | American Society of Hematology

Seriousness of the Disease: The seriousness of diseases like cancer drives patients and their families to pay any price for life-saving treatments, further sustaining the demand and ability for pharmaceutical companies to keep prices high.

High Cost of Development: The significant expenses and time involved in drug development contribute to the higher pricing of cancer drugs. Pharmaceutical companies invest billions in research and development, leading to high costs which are passed on to consumers.

Lobbying Power: The lobbying power of pharmaceutical companies influences the regulatory landscape, hindering reforms that could address high drug prices. This influence allows companies to maintain high prices and resist changes that could lower costs. The high cost of prescription drugs: causes and solutions - PMC

Price Comparison US vs Canada

A cohort study analyzed the association between approval characteristics, clinical benefit, and drug prices recommended for reimbursement in Canada by CADTH (Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health). Drugs with substantial clinical benefits had higher median monthly prices compared to those with low benefits, with immune checkpoint inhibitors being the highest priced. Notably, there were differences in monthly treatment costs based on drug type and recommendations. In Canada, unlike the US or Europe, drug prices varied significantly based on clinical benefit scores rather than just progression-free survival or overall survival gains.

The data presented below is a sample price comparison between commonly prescribed cancer medications in the US versus Canada. Almost all medications I researched were significantly less expensive in Canada than in the US. Here are a few examples of ones that have the biggest discrepancy in price. All were still less expensive in Canada.

● Gleevec (Imatinib) – the average cost of 400mg of Gleevec is $8,884 for a three-month supply in the US, whereas in Canada the cost is close to half of that.

● Arimidex (Anastrozole) – the cost in the US is close to $1,905 for a one-month supply at, while the Canada Pharmacy Online price is $227 per month and even less for generic.

● Ibrance (Palbociclib) – the US cost of this medication is around $16,839 for a supply of 21 capsules, as indicated on At Canada Pharmacy Online, this is over $7,853 for a one-month supply. Our price again is half of this.

● Femara (Letrozole) – the cost of Femara on starts at $28.21 per tablet, and the lowest cost of this medication is around $1,693 for a supply of 60 tablets. At Canada Pharmacy Online, our price is $527.99 for two months and even less for generic.

● Nolvadex (Tamoxifen) – the price of generic Tamoxifen on GoodRX starts at $12.00 per tablet, while Canada Pharmacy Online only starts at $0.45 per tablet.

● Casodex (Bicalutamide) – the price is around $3,381 at CVS for a supply of 30 tablets. Our Canadian pharmacy offers a competitive price of $281.99 for the same quantities. offers a vast selection of brand and generic prescription medications at competitive prices, which are dispensed from Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Turkey, as well as other overseas countries. Check these sources to learn about recent efforts related to prescription drug importation.


There are no easy solutions to the problem of high drug prices. The root causes are complex, and certain factors are unique to the United States in comparison with other nations globally. Navigating the financial cost for many can be daunting, but here are some helpful tips we want you to explore:

1. Explore Patient Assistance Programs: Talk to your cancer care team about public and private programs that offer discounted prices or full coverage for medicines.

2. Utilize Resources like Medicine Assistance Tools: Websites like the Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT) by PhRMA and NeedyMeds provide information on patient assistance resources and drug discount programs.

3. Consider Generic Drugs: As generic versions of cancer drugs become available, they can offer a more affordable option compared to brand-name drugs.

4. Advocate for Value-Based Pricing: Promoting value-based pricing for cancer drugs can help align prices with their actual benefits, ensuring better access to high-value treatments.

5. Look into Drug Donation Programs: Platforms like RemediChain accept donated unused cancer medications and make them available to those in need, helping address financial hardships.

By leveraging these strategies, individuals can navigate the complexities of cancer drug costs.

Bottom Line

While facing the physical and emotional challenges of cancer, along with the financial burden of expensive drug treatments is overwhelming, it is crucial to remember that there is always hope and support available.

Advances in medical research continue to bring about new treatment options and improved outcomes for cancer patients. Additionally, there are various organizations, support groups, and financial assistance programs dedicated to helping individuals navigate the challenges of cancer treatment costs. By staying informed, seeking help, and maintaining a positive outlook, those affected by cancer can find strength, resilience, and hope in their journey towards healing and recovery. Remember, you are not alone in this fight, and there is always light at the end of the tunnel and can be a great resource for lessening the financial burden of cancer.



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