A decision to risk $5000 on a test not available in Australia saved Banika Smee from months of chemotherapy, now the trailblazer wants to spare other breast cancer survivors the heavy cost.
Mrs Smee received her cancer diagnosis in March 2016, just months after her husband Mark had begun treatment for a melanoma.
His personal income insurance meant Mrs Smee was able to see a well-revered oncologist in Sydney who told her about a genetic test called Oncotype DX available from the United States.
Initial trials had shown that some women with hormone sensitive breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer, may not need chemotherapy treatment to increase their chance of survival when guided by the diagnostic test.
We didn’t want to put them through more hospital visits and have them thinking ‘dad’s sick and now mum has lost her hair’Banika Smee
“If it was me – I’d pay,” the oncologist told the concerned couple. It turned out to be good advice as the test result revealed the early stage cancer which had been removed during two operations, would not require chemotherapy.
More than two years on, Mrs Smee said at the time of diagnosis her concern had been for her children Billijana who was four years old at the time and Madwick who was seven years old at the time.
“We didn’t want to put them through more hospital visits and have them thinking ‘dad’s sick and now mum has lost her hair’,” she said.
“We decided we’d prefer to find out, rather than just say yes to chemotherapy because that’s what you usually have to do.”
The Smee family’s success, alongside other women who have forked out the money to receive results from overseas, has meant trials are now underway to have the cost of the test covered by the Australian government, however, the proposal to have it Medicare subsidised has been ongoing for several years.
Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) Directory of policy and advocacy Danielle Spence said the organisation remains very frustrated the test is still only available at a cost of around $4500.
“There is good evidence from overseas that support its value and we are calling on stakeholders to work out a way to make it available to all who could benefit from it,” she said.
Back at work six months after her treatment, Mrs Smee said she believes no woman should have to go through the physical and financial strain of chemotherapy if it can be prevented.
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