“Choice” was one of the most powerful words coming out from the Patient Advocacy Track at the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) congress. The event took place in Copenhagen from the 7th to the 11th of October with the participation of over 20,000 medical oncologists, patient advocates, pharma professionals and journalists. Patient advocates are demanding more power in all phases of the medical treatment and clinical management process: clinical research, treatment strategy and medical care techniques.

esmo_patient_advisory_group_bigAn example of the increasing role of the patient is the fact that ESMO has announced that it recognizes patient advocates as healthcare professionals an opens their membership at the Society. “It is the first time that a healthcare professional group acknowledges formally that patient advocates in healthcare and research are seen as professionals with full membership rights, including votes and access. This will help us a lot to lobby for policy, i.e. in terms of access to information, education, expert groups, and research projects” said Jan Geissler, Director at European Patients' Academy on Therapeutic Innovation (EUPATI) and Founder and Managing Director at Patvocates.

Live saving drugs… Just for some

ESMO highlighted the lack of access to innovative medicines for patients living in some parts of Europe. Metastatic melanoma patients can now survive for many years with innovative targeted therapies. But such therapies are expensive. According to a survey conducted by Dr Lidija Kandolf-Sekulovic, over 5,000 patients with metastatic melanoma in Europe have no access to these drugs. “This is especially the case for Eastern and South Eastern European countries, where a majority of patients are still treated with palliative chemotherapy that does not prolong overall survival,” said Kandolf-Sekulovic. esmo_2016_general_viewImmunotherapy is giving great hope for the impressive response that is achieving in some patients. This treatment uses the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer. But so far has shown to be effective in just a number of patients and for some types of cancer, like lung cancer, melanoma or bladder cancer. The more abnormalities the cancer has the more responsive is to immunotherapy. Now is up to science to answer why only a few patients respond to this promising therapy and how we can work towards a universal strategy. Smoking causes 25% of cancer deaths Another impressive figure highlighted at ESMO is that a quarter of cancer deaths in Europe are caused by smoking. So prevention is key in reducing cancer mortality. As tobacco prohibition is not on the horizon, ESMO advocates for increasing prices, a strategy that has been proved effective in many countries. Cancer during pregnancy petter_mummy_starOne of the most moving sessions was dedicated to cancer and pregnancy, a condition that is considered a rare disease given its exceptional nature (1 or 2 pregnancies in every 1,000). At ESMO we met Peter Wallroth, whose wife Mair died ten weeks after giving birth to her son. Pete decided to set up Mummy’s Star after the lack of support the family experienced during Mair’s cancer. The organisation raises awareness of cancer during pregnancy and offer support to families.

Whether a woman should receive treatment for her cancer during pregnancy has been a controversial question for a long time. But studies have shown now that it is safe. Professor Fréderic Amant, a leading figure in the field of cancer and pregnancy research, states that the treatment has no adverse effect on the health and development of the child.

At the congress we had the opportunity to meet with patient advocates from all over Europe and learn about their work. In a future article we will reveal how these advocates are making a difference for patients in various types of cancer. Stay tuned!

Teresa Bau, Communications Director at Patient Power Europe.