The 16th St Gallen International Breast Cancer Conference took place in Vienna for the third time, from 20–23 March 2019. More than 3000 people from all over the world were invited to take part in this important bi-annual critical review of the ‘state of the art’ in the primary care of breast cancer (BC), independent of political and industrial pressure, with the aim to integrate the most recent research data and most important developments in BC therapies since St Gallen International Breast Cancer Conference 2017, with the ultimate goal of drawing up a consensus for the current optimal treatment and prevention of BC.
This year, the St Gallen Breast Cancer Award was won by Monica Morrow (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA) for her extraordinary contribution in research and practise development in the treatment of BC. She opened the session with the lecture ‘Will surgery be a part of BC treatment in the future?’ Improved systemic therapy has decreased BC mortality and increased pathologic complete response (pCR) rates after neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NACT). Improved imaging and increased screening uptake have led to detect smaller cancers. These factors have highlighted two possible scenarios to omit surgery: for patients with small low-grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and for those who have received NACT and had a clinical and radiological complete response. However, considering that 7%–20% of `low-risk’ DCIS patients have co-existing invasive cancer at diagnosis, that surgery has become progressively less morbid and less toxic than some systemic therapies with a lower cost-effectiveness ratio, and that identification of pathologic complete response (pCR) without surgery requires more intensive imaging follow-up (more biopsies, higher cost and more anxiety for the patient), surgery still appears to be an essential treatment for BC.
The Umberto Veronesi Memorial Award went to Lisa Fallowfield (Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK) for her important research and activity in the field of the development of patient outcome, of better communication skills and quality of life for women. In her lecture, she remarked on the importance of improving BC personalised treatments, especially through co-operation between scientists, always considering the whole woman and not just her breast disease. This award was given by Paolo Veronesi, after a moving introduction which culminated with the following words of Professor Umberto Veronesi:
‘It is not possible to take care of the people’s bodies without taking care of their mind. My duty, the duty of all doctors, is to listen and be part of the emotions of those we treat every day’.