'Political influence hampering cancer treatment' say oncologists

23 Sep 2007
Recent political decisions have had serious consequences for European oncology, it was claimed by Professor John Smyth at this year's European Cancer Conference (ECCO 14). Professor Smyth, president of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS) said that its replacement - the 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.

He cited the Clinical Trials Directive and the recent Directive on Electromagnetic Fields as two examples of legislation that had had a "profound negative effect" on oncology in Europe. He suggested that the former had resulted in many oncologists giving up on trials due to the administrative and financial burden, giving his own hospital as an example, and that the later may stop MRI scanning in Europe.

Other topics likely to cause further problems are stem cell research and 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. He described it as "imperative" to find ways to improve the cost effectiveness of cancer treatment in general, and particularly the use of drugs: "[It] is a major priority for industry, politicians and the public."

Concern was also raised over the huge financial burden placed on society by cancer patients living longer due to improved treatments, screening and earlier and better diagnosis. ECCO is set to take these issues up with various governments and the European Commission. It will also aim to 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 multidisciplinary meetings and conferences, he said.

Reflecting on the issues raised, Professor Smyth made it clear that the new ECCO would be different from the old FECS in its more active role in engaging policymakers: "For too long oncologists have sat back and said that getting involved in politics is not their business, and recent events have shown that this is an attitude which is no longer sustainable. The time has come to get health professionals talking to politicians."

The professor concluded: "We simply cannot bury our heads in the sand on these issues, which affect doctors and patients alike. It is a daunting task, but one that needs to be undertaken. And we will do our very best to carry it out."