ESMO annual congress: from disease treatment to patient care

Today's post comes from Sonia Ujupan, Manager, Oncology Corporate Affairs, Europe. 

This year’s ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology) Congress brought together over 20,000 delegates in Copenhagen over the last weekend. This year’s meeting with a focus ‘from disease treatment to patient care’ reflected a growing emphasis on the patient, which is why study on quality of life was included in one of the Presidential Symposiums, a type of session aiming to highlight few selected, most striking discoveries and data. In addition, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen opened the congress by talking about Denmark’s  4th National Cancer Plan, which he described as the ‘patients’ plan’. We know we are moving in the right direction when a head of state firmly places patients’ needs at the centre of the national cancer plan. 

If we want to genuinely put cancer patient’ needs at the centre of political decision-making, there’s still a lot to do. According to the OECD, country differences in cancer survival could be explained in a proportion of 50-60% by the degree of national health expenditure and available resources. The remaining 40-50% could be explained by national cancer policies and access to state-of-the-art care. Analysing national healthcare systems to identify the economic and structural constraints that keep them from reaching full effectiveness is a good starting point. Capturing patient needs and assessing how addressing the constraints that directly influence an answer to these needs is a natural next step.

I heard several interesting proposals at ESMO on how to tackle the cancer care disparities in the EU. One in particular grabbed my attention. Dr Ana-Maria Forsea and Dr Alexander Eniu suggested developing 'resource-stratified guidelines in oncology', a tool that would help nations and physicians take the best decisions based on the limited resources they have. The objective being that no matter the resources at hand, each patient needs to benefit from the highest level of care. This was also a call for measurement - each country should see how it’s evolving over time with regards to cancer care. It would be interesting to see what the suggestions of the European Comprehensive Guide on Cancer Control (CanCon) will be on measuring improvement and success in cancer care, when it is published early next year.

And finally, I could not help but notice the ‘paradox of cancer research’, as an expert termed it. During the Presidential Symposium I mentioned above, data was presented side-by-side highlighting both ‘breakthrough’ improvements in care but also ‘continuous innovation’ (a compilation of continuous bigger and smaller incremental gains that lead to a total large improvement) in particularly hard-to-treat cancers. And that is the paradox that sometimes challenges our rational approach: the nature of progress against cancer is that it may go in big leaps or small steps – but they all carry patient benefit and importance for the long-term. But then again doesn’t progress often start from a paradox?