In his 2011 book, Mortality, the writer Christopher Hitchens said, “I don’t have a body. I am a body.” The quote comes at the end of a passage about how our bodies – and their ability to function healthily – largely define our existence. When something like cancer comes and derails the operation, we become powerless.
We have made incredible advances against this disease in the last two decades, yet for all our progress, we still lack a cure. As we focus on achieving a medical breakthrough, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s most important: continuous and immediate patient and survivor access to quality care. Improvements in care do not happen in a vacuum, however. Public policy and health care decisions influence how new medicines are discovered and how patients access them.
To direct attention back to the individual, we need an enabling policy environment. Such policies, both at EU and country level, require collaboration, sharing of scientific insights and placing the patient at the center of our attention. The EU Joint Action on Cancer (CanCon), an EU-funded and led network of partners, holds tremendous promise in this regard. CanCon is dedicated to reducing the EU cancer burden by promoting quality-based cancer screening programmes, better integrated cancer care, and improved palliative patient and survivor care. CanCon aims to produce a European Guide on Quality Improvement in Comprehensive Cancer Control, to inform policymakers, the media, public health officials and the general public of what needs to be done to help prevent cancer and extend life. These topics will be discussed in-depth on May 12 and May 13 when CanCon meets for its annual Stakeholder Forum and Policy Conference.
CanCon isn’t the only collaborative policy initiative advocating for a patient-focused approach: MEP’s Against Cancer (MAC) is an informal group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) active in cancer policy and committed to reducing cancer incidence by 15% by 2020. To do so, the MAC members will be working on prevention, reducing mortality by ensuring equitable access to high quality treatment, and ensuring a good quality of life for patients and survivors. These are encouraging efforts and highlight the need for patient-centric cancer policies that are conceived for the long term.
While we all hope for the breakthrough that will end cancer, the reality is that every incremental step can save, prolong, or improve the quality of many people's lives. By encouraging patient-focused policies through partnership efforts like CanCon and MAC, we can quicken these steps towards better individual care and cures. As Mr. Alojz Peterle, chair of the MAC group has put it: “Cancer control is such a complex matter that no single organisation or discipline can tackle it on its own. We need everyone’s will and energy, and we need to stay on the course.”