Dear ESMO Members,
When I addressed you as ESMO President for the first time in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was just emerging. Although it was impossible to predict the impact it would have on our lives, it was clear that we had to adapt and change the way we offer support to our members in caring for cancer patients.
Beyond our immediate response to the COVID-19 global health emergency, we recognise that the healthcare systems are coming under increasing pressure. Not only must the healthcare infrastructure adapt to outbreaks of novel diseases, economic recession and armed conflicts, but also to the long-term effects of phenomena such as ageing populations, sedentary living and environmental pollution. At the end of my Presidency, I want to reflect on the ways in which ESMO has worked to ensure that the hard-earned progress made in oncology in recent years continues to translate into better, more accessible cancer care in the future.
Our patients depend on multidisciplinary oncology teams. The ESMO family, which has now grown to more than 28,000 members, is characterised by diversity. In fulfilling our mission to meet the many different needs of our members, the Society has been guided by one principle: inclusion. From opening up grants for young oncologists, who represent a large proportion of our community, to consistently and relentlessly striving for balanced gender representation of officers - making it an ESMO rule - our goal has always been to build on the unique potential of each individual to raise the bar in our profession together. Inclusion is what prompted us to waive the annual ESMO membership fee for oncologists working in low- and middle-income countries, thus providing the opportunity for all oncology professionals to access the full range of ESMO learning resources and career development opportunities, as well as providing a sense of belonging to a larger, global effort against cancer.
A recent addition to our membership offer that I am particularly proud of is the ESMO Virtual Mentorship Programme, a global programme which matches young oncologists with a mentor for a 12-month period during which mentees receive one-on-one advice and support to help them reach their personal career goals. The second edition of the programme began last September, with 31 mentor-mentee pairs connecting professionals across Europe, South America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Our Leaders Generation Programmes, open to ESMO Members in Europe and Asia, provide talented young professionals the opportunity to participate in an intensive course that helps them develop their skills to assume future leadership positions in oncology. Since 2016, more than 130 graduates have completed the programme, and we very much look forward to welcoming new participants in 2023.
As oncologists we need to constantly adapt our medical practice, embracing the need for life-long learning to keep up with the fast-evolving science. The expansion of ESMO’s journal portfolio with two new titles and affiliation with four titles in 2023 will further increase the diversity of topics and research results that members can rely on to stay abreast of developments in our field. Meanwhile, we are working to enhance the ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines with Living Guidelines designed in a streamlined, easily updateable digital format to keep pace with the dynamic landscape of cancer biology and treatment. As we know, this landscape also varies across different geographic regions and socio-economic realities: for this reason, ESMO has steadily grown its collection of Pan-Asian Guideline Adaptations to a total of 12, tailored to the real-life working conditions of oncologists in Asia. Through the new ESMO-founded International Cancer Foundation, we were able to distribute hundreds of scholarships for virtual registrations to ESMO events for members working in low- and middle- income countries, who are usually outside of this circuit. Despite restrictions on travel and large gatherings, opportunities to continue learning in a live environment for ESMO Members, at every stage of their careers, were maintained and even multiplied in the last few years, thanks to virtual event formats.
To secure access to high-quality care for patients, we are continuing to inform global policymaking by mapping availability and accessibility of oncology resources internationally. Preliminary results from the second ESMO International Consortium Study on the Availability, Out-of-Pocket Costs, and Accessibility of Antineoplastic Medicines clearly demonstrate unacceptable global health disparities, as access to essential, inexpensive anticancer medicines in low- and middle-income countries is still unreliable and often associated with full out-of-pocket expenditure for patients, while highly effective novel agents are often not available. The ESMO Study on the Availability and Accessibility of Biomolecular Technologies in Oncology in Europe has revealed that next-generation sequencing technologies and advanced biomarker tests remain largely inaccessible outside of clinical research settings, despite the availability of licensed targeted medicines.
No public policy action aiming for sustainable cancer care can ignore the fundamental role of prevention in protecting our healthcare infrastructure from the pressure of current trends in cancer incidence, which could bring the annual number of cases to over 30 million globally by 2040. (1) We know that up to half of all cancers are preventable. (2) ESMO has therefore resolved to invest more heavily in this area: collaborations with expert partners, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), allow us to increase our knowledge and awareness of prevention, with actions that can be taken to provide clear guidance to our patients. The World Cancer Report Updates Learning Platform, which ESMO supports, offers free access to learning material based on selected content from the IARC 2020 World Cancer Report as well as recent developments in cancer prevention research. Just this month, a jointly developed ESMO-IARC webinar provided insights into the current state and future development of lung cancer screening.
The quality of oncology training and education is paramount, but when it comes to the capacity of the cancer workforce to meet global medical needs, the number of professionals working in the field is equally critical. To achieve universal health coverage in the context of a growing cancer burden, governments will need to develop national workforce strategies and prioritise investments in health and care worker recruitment, education and training, but also in the retention and protection of oncology personnel. A chronic issue in many health systems, staff shortages were further accentuated by COVID-19. A series of surveys conducted by the ESMO Resilience Task Force highlighted the urgent need to address the risk of burnout and to improve oncologists’ wellbeing to ensure that oncology professionals are able to continue delivering optimal care to patients. Another survey by the ESMO Women for Oncology Committee, soon to be published in ESMO Open, saw a worrying increase in the number of reports of harassment in the workplace in 2021 compared to 2016 (3). This finding will be further investigated in a dedicated study.
There is no doubt that the last three years have had a profound impact on each and every one of us. Witnessing first-hand the good that our profession and the ESMO community have done under the most difficult circumstances, I am confident that our Society will continue to address the challenges we face to make a meaningful contribution to improving patient care through supporting oncology professionals worldwide. It is an honour and a privilege to continue serving ESMO beside our incoming President, Andrés Cervantes, as Past-President on the Executive Board. It is also with great pride and gratitude that I will continue my work to support the global development of cancer prevention and care, embracing diversity and fighting against disparities, as President of the International Cancer Foundation.
With my very best wishes,
- Source: Globocan
- GBD 2019 Cancer Risk Factors Collaborators. The global burden of cancer attributable to risk factors, 2010–19: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)01438-6
- S Banerjee, U Dafni, T Allen, D Arnold, G Curigliano, E Garralda, M C Garassino, J Haanen, E Hofstädter-Thalmann, C Robert, C Sessa, Z Tsourti, P Zygoura and S Peters. Gender-related challenges facing oncologists: the results of the ESMO Women for Oncology Committee survey. https://doi.org/10.1136/esmoopen-2018-000422