In the past, delivering potent anti-cancer medications meant patients would have to roll up their sleeves. Today that isn't always the case, thanks to some major advances in treatment over the past 10 to 20 years.

"And one of the most visible of those advances has been the introduction of cancer treatments that can be taken by mouth in pill form," said Dr. Matthew Seftel, head of medical oncology at CancerCare Manitoba.

The pills allowed patients to receive their medicine at home. But prior to 2012, it also meant they'd have to pay a deductible for the treatment.

"These oral cancer drugs can be very costly," said Colette Raymond, Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. "So a deductible could cost in the hundreds, or even thousands of dollars."

The province cancelled that deductible in 2012. Now Pharmacare picks up the entire cost.

The Manitoba Centre for Health Policy wanted to see what impact that deductible had on patient behavior. So researchers examined data from all Manitoba cancer patients over a 12 year period.

"When they have to pay a deductible, they might wait to fill a prescription," said Raymond. But after 2012, prescription fill-rates became steady year round.

"This suggests that because the cost barrier was removed, patients could fill their prescriptions when they needed them," she said.

Dr. Matthew Seftel says there are multiple benefits to this, including easing anxiety for patients.

"The other likely long term benefit," according to Dr. Seftel, "is that if you take treatments on time, as prescribed you will do better with respect to your cancer outcome." That could lead to higher survival rates, he said.

The researchers also found that over the 12 years, the number of prescriptions written for oral anti-cancer drugs in pill form has grown. It rose from about 22,000 a year, to nearly 38,000.

Costs of the medications also rose dramatically, from about $7 million a year to $26 million.