A better future for those with breast cancer

One in two people will hear the words ‘You have cancer’ at some point in their life.  Although the outlook and quality of life for breast cancer patients has improved significantly in recent years, a lot more work remains to be done to ensure that breast cancer is screened, diagnosed and treated at an early stage and those living with or after breast cancer can successfully manage work, return to work, or find work during or after treatment. On the occasion of World Cancer Day all members of the Transforming Breast Cancer Together initiative are reminding EU policy makers that improving the diagnosis, treatment and quality of life of those with breast cancer must remain a high priority.

“Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer globally and female breast cancer accounts for something like 13% of all cancer diagnoses in the EU. Many of those will be of working age and will have been playing a vital role in their communities. It is essential that employers and healthcare professionals give a higher priority to good employment outcomes for cancer patients. Sadly, fewer than two-thirds of employees with cancer have returned to work or are still working a year after getting a diagnosis, often adding to their mental health and financial difficulties”, says Barbara Wilson, Founder & Director at Working with Cancer.

“The pandemic is hitting cancer patients hard. Weakened by their illness or immunocompromised due to treatment, they are extremely vulnerable if infected. Even those who are not affected by the virus can experience delays in screening, chemotherapy and surgery”, says Maude Anderson, Board Member, European Cancer Patients Coalition (ECPC). And while fewer people are being screened, it remains as important as ever.

“Women who do not have access to screening or quality breast cancer care tend to be diagnosed with the disease at a later stage, which means a worse prognosis and a shorter life span”, says Barbara Klein, Communications Officer, EUROPA DONNA- The European Breast Cancer Coalition. Early diagnosis and subsequently treatment improves cancer survival. Therefore, the message is clear. To improve patient outcomes, we should treat cancer early, and to do that, we must improve screening. This is too serious to be disregarded.  Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan aims to support the implementation of national, population-based breast cancer screening programmes in the EU. With its implementation roadmap in place, we need to ensure that plans find their way into the everyday life of patients and that innovations such as digital or personalised medicine are leveraged.

This World Cancer Day all members of the ‘Transforming Breast Cancer Together’ initiative step up to close the care gap and to ensure that breast cancer prevention, screening and care is a top priority.

Interrupted cancer care

The pandemic disrupted cancer care in Europe. With early, personalized treatment and access to quality breast cancer care the prognosis is significantly improving. “Once a patient has been diagnosed with breast cancer, they should have the right to be treated in a certified breast centre by a multidisciplinary team”, says Dr. Isabel Rubio, Head of Breast Surgical Oncology at Clinica Universidad de Navarra, Spain; EUSOMA President and ESSO President-elect. “This means that the patient has a multi-skilled expert-team behind them, including a radiologist, pathologist, medical oncologist, breast surgeon, radiation-oncologist, psycho-oncologist, breast nurse, as well as the rest of supportive groups, all working together with the patient, to decide on the right treatment and with a clear understanding of the patient’s needs and preferences”, continues Marzia Zambon, Executive Director, EUROPA DONNA- The European Breast Cancer Coalition. The implementation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan should ensure breast cancer patients’ access to certified breast centres across the EU.

Better days for people living with cancer

Treatments are becoming more effective, but they also come with both physical and psychological side effects. “They can totally undermine an individual’s quality of life”, says Carole Terrasanta, Medical Affairs Manager, Helsinn Group. “An optimal side effects management programme may improve not only patients’ quality of life, but also care, since, a good understanding and control of side effects can allow patients to receive their entire prescribed course of treatment without too many modifications. Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan should ensure better side effects management and quality of life for breast cancer patients.”

Gaps in metastatic cancer care

Currently, no cure is known for the vast majority of metastatic/advanced breast cancer patients, but therapeutic advances allow patients with this disease to live longer lives, with a good quality of life. “Quality of life and access to care are the biggest areas of unmet need and inequalities between and within European countries are devasting. TBCT and its members have called on the EU in a joint letter to ensure that the needs of metastatic/advanced cancer patients are at the forefront of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan”, says Dr. Fatima Cardoso of ABC Global Alliance. “For example, TBCT believes that there should be a harmonised breast cancer registry process in Europe for collecting breast cancer data, including both early and metastatic breast cancer. Currently, most European cancer registries do not collect data on relapse and therefore, we do not know how many Europeans are living with metastatic cancer. It is also critical to ensure that the general public is educated on the disease, as stigma and isolation are an appaling reality for most metastatic cancer patients”, clarifies Dr. Cardoso. “Amplifying the voices of people living with metastatic breast cancer is key to recognizing and responding to the unique challenges they face,” underlines Matthijs van Meerveld, Head of Global Public Affairs, Breast Cancer at Sanofi.

Bridging the inequalities gap

By joining forces and ‘connecting the dots’, we can make a difference for patients and their families on various fronts, not on the least bridging the inequalities in cancer care.  “The care gaps women experience today in our healthcare systems around the world are alarming, even in the most developed countries”, says Teresa Graham, Head Global Product Strategy at Roche. “Why would a patient with metastatic breast cancer living in Poland or Lithuania have access to an innovative medicine two to three years later than a patient with a similar disease living in Germany or Austria?” continues Lamis Chahoud, Novartis Market Access & Public Affairs Head SERCE. “Whatever the reason, bridging the inequalities in cancer care is high priority. My dream is to bridge the inequalities gap across the breast cancer continuum of care”, concludes Lamis Chahoud.

Education and awareness more important than ever

Education and awareness have never been more important. “The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the forefront the value of information to navigate an overstrained healthcare system and workforce shortages. One needs to be able to recognize the signs of a disease and understand the value of investigating those without delay. There is a growing number of breast cancer patients and a limited number of healthcare professionals”, says Sonia Ujupan, Director, Oncology Corporate Affairs, International Eli Lilly and Company. Consequently, it is important to support patients also outside the healthcare units, leveraging self-support groups, combating misinformation, providing the right information at the right time. “This allows patients to have an informed discussion with their treaters and make appropriate lifestyle decisions during and after the treatment”, continues Sonia. The EU Beating Cancer plan provides a great opportunity for the Member States to get a step closer to providing cancer patients with a holistic care they need for better outcomes.

TBCT’s work

Helping patients and their families during, before and after the disease is the inspiration and the driving force of “Transforming Breast Cancer Together” initiative. Patient empowerment and patient needs are at the centre of all the various activities implemented by the group.As such, the Transforming Breast Cancer Together Initiative continues to advocate for the rights and needs of patients, by maintaining breast cancer high in the EU policymaking agenda, with the ultimate objective of improving breast cancer patients’ outcomes throughout the breast cancer pathway.

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