September 28, 2023

Japan Approves Reimbursement of the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® Test

The country’s universal health care system begins covering the test on Sept. 1 to help the thousands of Japanese women facing breast cancer each year. 

Woman sits with book

Ayako Matsui first discovered a lump in her breast in 2002.  
After receiving treatment near her home in Japan, the advertising professional took up marathon running as a symbol of overcoming cancer and celebrating life.  
Fifteen years later, she developed cancer again.  
Ayako’s doctor recommended Exact Sciences’ Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® test, which helps certain patients understand how likely their cancer is to return and whether they will benefit from chemotherapy. Once Ayako had surgery, the test would help her and her doctor make decisions about further treatment. 
Although the Oncotype® test was available at the time to patients in Japan, it was not covered by the country’s universal health care system. Patients had to pay for it out of pocket. 
Cost was a hurdle for Ayako, which delayed her decision. Ultimately, she opted to take the test, which provides an individualized risk assessment based on a tumor’s unique genomic makeup. And she’s glad she did: “I now know the specific characteristics of my cancer, which has made me feel much better.” 
Had Ayako’s cancer developed a few years later, the cost barrier would have vanished for her. On Sept. 1, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare began reimbursement for the test, granting women in Japan broad access to the insights it provides. 
“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Japanese women, with more than 90,000 new cases diagnosed every year,”1 says Dirk Zimmermann, general manager for international at Exact Sciences. “With this development, we have the potential to help thousands of patients who are currently missing out on the opportunity to take a test, representing a significant portion of all those diagnosed.” 
The program approved in Japan combines the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test and software developed for the Japanese market. Exact Sciences will work to get the test into the hands of oncologists and make sure they understand its value in guiding treatment for patients.  
The test can help some patients avoid the challenges associated with chemotherapy. Ayako felt that knowing the test results would give her confidence in whatever treatment she sought.  
Her score indicated that her cancer was not likely to return and that she would not benefit from chemotherapy. “I was relieved to know that I had a type of cancer that responds to hormone therapy to some extent,” she says.  
She also values the insights the test provided. “By quantifying the data, I was able to visualize it, which gave me guidance for my future life, saying that I would be OK up to this point,” she says. 
Today, Ayako is back to running marathons. Her wish is that other cancer patients have the information they need to “move forward, one step at a time, toward each milestone, with the sense that the disease is not the center of your life, but rather just a part of it.” 

Notes and references

1Globocan 2023 
This story reflects one individual’s experience and is not clinical, diagnostic or treatment advice for any particular patient. Not every person will have the same treatment, experience, outcome or result. The Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® test is prescribed by a health care provider and is for individuals with stage I-IIIA hormone receptor-positive (HR+), HER2-negative (HER2-) breast cancer.