Doctors and patients call on politicians to save lives of cancer patients


Speaking today at a workshop on 'Cancer treatment: a priority for patients in Europe', cancer specialists and representatives of cancer patients called on the UK and Luxembourg governments to put access to quality cancer treatment at the top of their health agendas during their Presidencies of the EU in 2005. According to Prof. John Smyth, Director of the Cancer Research Centre at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, Scotland and President-Elect of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS), "not everyone realises how much real progress has been achieved in recent years for the treatment of cancer. Why? Because, not everyone has access to the latest advances. Availability of treatment is as much a political as a medical decision and with 1 in 3 of the population affected, it is to everyone's advantage to put cancer management at the top of their priority list".

Prof. Smyth was speaking as part of a panel of experts from the medical profession and from European patients' organisations who were addressing an audience of representatives of national health ministries, Members of the European Commission, MEP's and journalists as part of this year's European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG). The EHFG brings together key policy makers from the European Institutions and the EU Member States as well as interested stakeholders. The panel drew attention to the fact that despite cancer being the second largest cause of death in the EU, patients still do not have adequate or uniform access to treatment.

"The availability of new treatments for the management of cancer is dependant on two factors. Firstly scientific discovery and secondly, the political will to make financial investment to translate it into practical treatment", explained Prof. Smyth. "In Europe there are exceptional opportunities to progress scientific discovery into better cancer management but we must address the different roles of academia and industry. We also need to address the current threat to academic research and aim to reduce the amount of bureaucracy associated with clinical research". "Increased numbers of European citizens would survive cancer if the overall community and politicians would support health infrastructure development allowing the implementation of multidisciplinary cancer care and provides the funding to ensure that proven treatments are made available without restriction", he added.

Susan Knox, Executive Director of EUROPA DONNA -The European Breast Cancer Coalition gave the Breast Cancer Resolution as an example of how patients and medical professionals can drive forward an agenda and have it recognised and adopted at a European political level. The Breast Cancer Resolution, passed by the European Parliament in June 2003, outlined breast services that should be provided across the EU and included recommendations on areas such as: screening, patients rights, treatment and training. With regard to treatment, the Resolution called for breast cancer patients to be treated by multidisciplinary teams who specialise in breast disease. It also stated that screening, delivered according to the European Mammography Screening guidelines, should be provided in all member countries.

"However, the resolution has not yet been implemented across the EU and we would call on the authorities to continue to press for the Resolution to be adopted across Europe to ensure that all European women have access to high quality breast services and screening programmes", explained Ms. Knox. "EUROPA DONNA urges everyone concerned with health care in the EU (MEP's, members of the Commission, national parliamentarians, national health ministries, policy makers, individuals and advocacy groups) to pursue measures now to implement the Resolution at the national level".

Mr. Christian Ligensa, Vice President of BPS e.V and Steering Committee member of Europa Uomo, echoed the call of Prof. Smyth. Speaking on behalf of more than 15,000 patients with prostate cancer, Mr. Ligensa claimed that it was "disgraceful that treatment of prostate cancer is currently a low priority for European governments. Many patients do not have access to modern treatment that would help ensure their survival and improve their quality of life." Mr. Ligensa urged politicians to ensure that all patients have access to early detection and the best available treatment.

Catriona Moore, speaking on behalf of UK-based charity CancerBACUP said, "CancerBACUP's own research has shown that huge variations in access to cancer treatments exist in the UK, depriving patients of vital drugs which could improve their chances of survival." "At present there is no mechanism for ensuring that national guidance on cancer treatments is implemented at local level. European governments must put this issue at the top of their political agendas to ensure that patients are given the best choice of treatments available for their illness and that funding gets through to the front line of cancer care."

To illustrate further how politicians, working in unison with medical professionals and patients can revolutionise a system, Prof. Smyth used the example of the networks of cancer care, introduced in Scotland over the last 5 years, and which have beneficially influenced access to treatment irrespective of where patients live. "This demonstrates how politicians, responding to calls by health professionals, supported by patients, can modernise and improve cancer care in a dramatic manner", said Prof. Smyth.

Prof. Smyth concluded, "If the political will was there modern medicine could not only increase the numbers of lives saved, but also greatly enhance the quality of life for patients throughout Europe who suffer from cancer." "Progress could be made if all doctors were united in their approach and if the national authorities make available sufficient resources to provide adequate numbers of doctors, nurses and other health care providers."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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