As we mark this International Women’s Day, our first thoughts are with everyone in Ukraine. In particular, we are deeply concerned for those who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and our immediate priority is to ensure that all breast cancer patients continue to get access to the care they need. On International Women’s Day, we recognise not only the incredible women who are facing the daily realities of breast cancer, but also the need to educate and inform all women of the signs of breast cancer, so they can live their lives to the fullest.
Female breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in Europe with over 355,000 women diagnosed in 2020. Europe made the fight against cancer a priority when it launched Europe’s Beating Cancer plan a year ago. The Transforming Breast Cancer Together Initiative (TBCT) is deeply committed to cancer prevention and care with the aim of increasing understanding of the daily realities of people living with early and advanced breast cancer in Europe, while ensuring that policymaking reflects both the individual and the societal burden. Now is the right time to discuss women’s health, especially the unique needs of women with early and advanced breast cancer. Today we highlight 5 priorities to help all women to be healthy and to live their lives to the fullest, regardless of who they are and where they are from.
- Breast cancer prevention and early detection matters
Our goal is to prevent women from getting breast cancer or, if they do, to diagnose it as early as possible. Many breast cancer deaths are preventable and therefore timely access to screening and treatment is crucial. Treating breast cancer while it is still at an early stage provides patients with the best chance of survival and quality of life, thereby offering an optimistic future to patients, families, and society. Europe’s Beating Cancer plan aims to ensure that 90% of the EU population who qualify for breast cancer screenings, are offered it by 2025.
- Ensure equal access for all
Women should have the same access to cancer prevention and care, regardless of who they are and where they come from. Inequalities have no place in a Europe built on solidarity. The new Cancer Inequalities Registry, launched by the European Commission in earlyFebruary, will contribute to identifying trends and disparities between Member States and regions. It will also shed light on inequalities in cancer prevention and care based on gender, educational attainment and income level, as well as disparities between urban and rural areas. The Registry will guide investment and interventions at EU, national and regional level.
“Our goal is to help breast cancer patients and their families to regain their quality of life and build confidence.”
- Consider the unique needs of women with breast cancer
An increasing number of people with breast cancer – those with primary, advanced or metastatic cancer are facing the challenge of returning to, and thriving at, work. Post-COVID, these challenges have in many cases been exacerbated. It is essential that breast cancer patients can successfully manage work, return to work, or find work during or after treatment so they can play a full part in their communities and society as a whole.
- Strive to improve the quality of life and emotional well-being of patients and their families
Our goal is to help breast cancer patients and their families to regain their quality of life. Adding to the hurdles that patients and survivors have to face throughout their cancer journey, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally affected the quality of life of cancer patients. There are a number of obstacles for patients and survivors, from diagnosis, which usually results in long periods of sick leave due to medical treatment and other functional restrictions, to the ‘after’ period, where many cancer survivors face long-term symptoms after their treatment ends, such as fatigue, thinking and memory problems and peripheral neuropathy, making it more difficult to participate in society. In addition, special consideration should be given to the importance of metastatic breast cancer patients and breast cancer survivors maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
- The needs of metastatic breast cancer patients should be considered more centrally
TBCT spear-headed a joint letter calling on policymakers to ensure that the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) report and the European Commission’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan reflect the special attention metastatic or advanced cancer requires. TBCT urges policymakers to consider the multitude of specific needs of metastatic or advanced cancer patients, and make sure that no patient is left behind. We urge policymakers to drive a change in the perception of advanced cancer, from a “death sentence” to a condition with which patients can survive for a prolonged period of time with a relative good quality of life. Quality of life is the biggest area of unmet need and access to care is very important to patients living with advanced metastatic breast cancer. It is also pivotal that cancer centres across the EU are equipped and ready to address the specific needs of breast cancer patients including advanced and metastatic breast cancer patients. As stigma and isolation has become a reality for most metastatic cancer patients, it is critical to ensure that the general public is deeply aware of the disease and the challenges it poses. Lastly, it is pivotal to make sure that adequate support and help is provided to patients with metastatic cancer patients to continue to work.
On International Women’s Day let us also make sure the health system continues to deliver care to all people who need it, especially in Ukraine.
Chair of Transforming Breast Cancer Together