Advances Made, Challenges Remain in Fight Against Cancer

Oncology, ONCOLOGY Vol 11 No 11, Volume 11, Issue 11

Cancer outcome is improving by 1% each year, which adds up to very substantial progress over 5 years, says Professor

Cancer outcome is improving by 1% each year, which adds up to very substantial progress over 5 years, says Professor Jean Claude Horiot, President of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS), at a press conference at the 1997 European Cancer Conference.

“However, we still have a major fight on our hands as the incidence of cancer is increasing throughout the European Union (EU) as the population ages,” he says.

According to Professor Horiot, two things are needed to fight cancer effectively:

  • Clinicians need to act quickly to translate the results of research into clinical practice.
  • Political debate is required to ensure that the facilities to do this are available.

For example, he mentions that despite evidence showing the benefits of preoperative radiotherapy in rectal cancer, this approach is not yet widely used as standard practice in Europe. This can be due to doctors’ reluctance to change policies or sometimes the lack of staff and basic treatment facilities for good cancer care.

“We must find the political will to fight these deficiencies if we are going to meet the cancer challenges that lie ahead of us,” he added.

Expect Progress....Not Magic

Professor Horiot emphasized that the major advances in the field of cancer are often the unspectacular. He suggests that the public expect cancer researchers to make fantastic discoveries from year to year, particularly in the field of gene therapy, but this is an unrealistic expectation.

“Progress is mostly achieved by putting existing therapies, such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, to their best use, by finding the most effective dosages or the best combinations of treatments,” said Professor Horiot.

“Medical advances need to be supplemented by educating the public to adopt cancer prevention methods,” he stressed. “For example, it is vital not to expose yourself to the sun in Mediterranean regions between 11 am and 4 pm. This is especially important for children. Research shows that genetic damage in childhood is one of the foremost causes of skin cancer.”

The European Commission and Cancer Prevention

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission’s (EC) Europe Against Cancer Program (EAC), Mr. Wilfried Kamphausen from the Commission of the European Communities’ Directorate General V in Luxembourg said. “Cancer prevention is a key area of public health policy at the EU level. We are proud of the way that Europe is pooling resources to prevent and fight cancer. One expression of this is the organization of the 'Europe Against Cancer Week,' held on 6-13 October this year and focusing throughout the European Union on the prevention, early detection and screening of breast and cervical cancer.”

“Besides actions aimed at the public at large and directly related to the European Code Against Cancer, health professionals—and in particular general practitioners and cancer nurses—also receive special attention through our program. The way in which cancer nursing is developing as a specialty across Europe is an exciting educational development of major importance,” continued Mr. Kamphausen.

“The European Oncology Nursing Society, with support from the Europe Against Cancer Program, has proved immensely valuable in setting Europe-wide standards in nurse education. It is vitally important that common standards are developed and common aims are set across the EU.”

Another important example of cooperation between EU member states, supported by the EC, is the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), one of the largest studies of diet and its relation to cancer prevention ever undertaken. The full results of EPIC will be available by the year 2000.

“This information about diet will be vital in the battle against cancer,” commented Mr. Kamphausen. “We already know that eating specific fruits and vegetables seems to protect people against certain cancers; for example, eating vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and carrots seems to lower your risk of colon cancer. We hope that we will soon be able to give people much more information about what to eat—and what not to eat—to reduce their risk of developing cancer.”