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Political decisions harming cancer treatment in Europe

Barcelona, Spain: Recent political decisions have had serious consequences for European oncology, said Professor John Smyth at ECCO 14, the European Cancer Conference, today (Monday 24 September 2007). Professor Smyth, President of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS) said that the new European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) would take an active role in engaging with policymakers to ensure that future legislation did not have a similarly negative impact.

Professor Smyth cited the Clinical Trials Directive and the recent Directive on Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) as two examples of legislation that had had a major negative impact on oncology in Europe. In the first, the academic oncology community woke up too late and found that the administrative and financial burden of running clinical trials had increased to the extent that many simply gave up, he said. Now the Directive on Electromagnetic Fields looks as though it may stop all MRI scanning in Europe. We simply cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand on these issues, which affect doctors and patients alike.

Forthcoming topics of concern were the problems of international collaboration on stem cell research where European countries had widely differing legislation, and the whole area of the escalating cost of cancer treatment. The successful development of many new anti-cancer drugs in recent years is challenging every health economic programme in Europe, said Professor Smyth. It is imperative to find ways to improve the cost effectiveness of cancer treatment in general, and particularly the use of drugs. Improving the cost effective use of medicines is a major priority for industry, politicians and the public at large.

Due to these new and improved treatments, screening, and earlier and better diagnosis, cancer patients are living longer and better lives. But how will the huge financial burden on society that this implies be met" ECCO will be asking governments and the European Commission to consider these issues as a matter or urgency.

ECCO will bring together major players in cancer research, treatment, and care in order to create awareness of patients wishes and needs, encourage progressive thinking in cancer policy, education, and training, and continue to promote European cancer research and its application through the organisation of multi-disciplinary meetings and conferences, he said.

The difference between the new ECCO and the old FECS will be that the new organisation has decided to take a far more active role in engaging with policymakers to promote the interests of both cancer patients, those who care for them; and those without whose research there would be no advances in treatment and care, he said. For too long oncologists have sat back and said that getting involved in politics is not their business, and recent events have shown us that this is an attitude which is no longer sustainable.

The last two years had given ample opportunity for reflection, said Professor Smyth. Not only did we consult our members, but we also carried out an audit of many players in oncology, patient groups, media, and other stakeholders. They all told us the same thing they wanted to see a democratic, representative, and visionary organisation tackle the problems that are currently besetting oncology science and practice. An organisation that would provide consistently dependable information on the state of oncology in Europe, and through that information provision would strive to improve the lot of everyone involved in cancer.

It is a daunting task, but one that needs to be undertaken. And we will do our very best to carry it out.


Contact: Mary Rice
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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