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Misperceptions of metastatic breast cancer (mBC) create added obstacles for treatment and care


A first-of-its-kind global report by Pfizer Oncology and the European School of Oncology (ESO) analyses the metastatic breast cancer landscape

A diagnosis of mBC can be the beginning of a challenging journey for patients. MBC is often shrouded by misperceptions, as many people confuse the disease with early stage breast cancer. At the same time, many patients struggle to find the accurate information they need. With mBC still claiming many lives, more information and awareness is needed to help patients, doctors and carers tackle this disease.

With about 464,200 new cases and 131,260 deaths per year in Europe, breast cancer (BC) is the most common cancer among women.1 Approximately one in three women initially diagnosed and treated for earlier stages of BC will eventually relapse and develop metastatic disease.2

While early breast cancer now receives considerable public attention, mBC is still largely ignored in the media and misunderstood by the public.3 A new report by Pfizer Oncology and the European School of Oncology (ESO) highlights the lack of available resources for mBC patients, and the need for more dedicated mBC initiatives to correct public perceptions and provide patients with vital information and support.3

For many patients, confusion often begins at the point of mBC diagnosis, as many people do not realise the disease is incurable.3 Based on a survey of over 14,000 members of the general public, 48-76% of respondents in five European countries incorrectly believe that mBC is curable (UK 52%, France 48%, Germany 55%, Poland 61%, Turkey 76%).3 On average, patients with mBC require three discussions with their oncologist before they have a clear understanding of the goals of their therapy, according to a survey among 582 physicians, nurses, and breast cancer center leaders.3 While physician training and information can help professionals conduct challenging discussions, only 43% of HCPs report having received this kind of training.3 Fatima Cardoso, MD, director, Breast Unit at Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon commented: “In the absence of a cure, it is essential for doctors to be clear about the goals of treatment. The primary goal is to maintain the best quality of life for as long as possible.”

As patients adjust to life with mBC, they continue to face challenges, particularly as popular understanding of the disease is mainly driven by early-stage BC.3 Many patients with mBC reported feeling isolated, even from the wider BC community.3 The analysis by Pfizer and the ESO underscores the significant misperceptions of the disease, which often drive social stigmatisation.3 24-59% of the 14,000 adults in the survey believe that mBC patients did not take preventive measures and are in some way responsible for their disease progressing. Nurses and physicians stated that patients with mBC are most often confronted with the common misconceptions that pain is inevitable and uncontrollable.

For patients surrounded by misperceptions, the situation is exacerbated as many also face difficulties finding the accurate information they need. The need for a holistic approach including the integration of supportive care and palliative treatment throughout the entire disease continuum is clear and Dr Cardoso is calling for a strong commitment of all involved parties – from academics to HCPs, from the pharmaceutical industry to media, from advocacy groups to patient families, from policy makers to governments. Everyone has a role to play in enhancing the lives of women with mBC.

The Me & MBC Patient Handbook provides practical, locally-customizable information about living with mBC and will be available to patients across Europe. (Courtesy of Pfizer)


1 Stewart B, Wild, C. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organization. World Cancer Report, 2014.

2 O’Shaughnessy I. Extending survival with chemotherapy in metastatic breast cancer. The Oncologist 2005;10:20- 29.

3 Global Status of Advanced/Metastatic Breast Cancer: 2005 - 2015 Decade Report. Sponsored by Pfizer Oncology. March 2016. Available at

Pfizer sponsored content



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Cancer Intelligence