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ESMO 2012 Press Release: Equal access to cancer care is a medical and ethical imperative

07 Dec 2012
Bioethics, legal and economic issues

Vienna, Austria – 2 October 2012

Ensuring that cancer patients across Europe have equal access to the best possible cancer care, including early diagnosis, treatment and supportive care, is a medical and ethical imperative, the President of the European Society for Medical Oncology said at a press conference on Tuesday (2 October 2012). Speaking on the final day of the ESMO 2012 Congress in Vienna, Prof Martine Piccart said results presented at the meeting offered a panoramic view of the impressive achievements of modern oncology. Those results made clear how such positive developments improve the lives of people with cancer. 

“The goal we are working toward is personalised medicine, and there is a long road to travel before we get there,” Prof Piccart said. “High quality cancer care can extend the lives of patients and significantly lessen their suffering, and thereby also the costs to society.”

“If we want further improvements to come quickly, we must intensify our efforts for international collaborative research,” she said.

One study at the conference, presented by Ramon Luengo-Fernandez of Oxford University showed that the annual healthcare cost across EU countries per head of population for cancer range between 32 and 165 euros.

On average 39% of the total burden of cancer goes on the cost of treating it, said Prof Peter Boyle, Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

“We also know from many other sources that access to optimal cancer treatment varies greatly within the EU, often because of national regulations and cost refund procedures, and associated delays in the availability of drugs after their approval by the relevant EU authorities,” said Prof Christoph Zielinski, Director of the division of clinical oncology at the Medical University Vienna, ESMO 2012 Local Officer.

“ESMO believes that every effort must be made to reduce the barriers to quality cancer care,” Prof Piccart said. “Our goal as a professional society is to improve global cancer care. We do this through a number of activities, including treatment and clinical practice guidelines, as well as a variety of educational tools for oncologists, on top of supporting research, as was clear over the last few days.”

“We are also very happy to collaborate with national oncology societies to address the specific needs of each country and put them in a European perspective to make our united voice heard,” Dr Piccart said. 

Access to opioid analgesics indispensable for the treatment of tumour related pain is also differentially available across Europe and worldwide.
“A current comparative study has shown us that opioid pain relief medications are hardly accessible in a large group of countries. This is a result that demands improvement, since cancer patients with respect to both their illness and the complications they suffer are receiving unequal treatment from country to country,” Prof Zielinski said. 

This unequal access between countries to therapies and the different waiting periods for the approval or cost refund for new drugs have an impact on the success of treatment, on the survival rates of people with cancer and on their quality of life. “Direct access to innovative drugs can save a patient's life and considerably reduce the burden of the disease--and thereby also the costs to society,” Prof Zielinski added.

Appropriate measures should thus be taken to ensure Europe-wide equal access to diagnostic procedures, to uniform standards in therapy and quality of care for cancer patients: “Cancer patients have an inalienable right to prompt accessibility to innovative drugs and overall quality cancer care.”

The ESMO 2012 Congress was attended by 16,402 persons from over 100 countries worldwide (preliminary figures).

Last update: 02 Oct 2012

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