More than 3,000 breast cancer specialists and advocates attended the 8th European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC-8) in Vienna, Austria from 21-24 March, where topics such as survivorship and the benefits of lifestyle interventions also took the floor. EUROPA DONNA – The European Breast Cancer Coalition, in partnership with the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) and the European Society of Breast Cancer Specialists (EUSOMA) hosted the conference, where physicians and advocates alike heard the latest findings on best practice in mammography screening, specialist breast unit implementation and accreditation, imaging techniques, surgical and drug therapy, lifestyle measures, and specific populations such younger women, older women and those with metastatic disease.
EUROPA DONNA Past President Bettina Borisch reiterated the message of hope conveyed in the book The Year of the Pale Sunflower, whose authors she presented with the European Breast Cancer Arts and Humanities Award. At the closing session, she also reminded participants of the need for further advocacy for mammography screening and breast unit implementation: “We know that in breast units, team work is essential, but it is not easy. A European specialist breast unit accreditation scheme must be implemented so that patients know where they can go for optimum care.”
In a session on barriers to effective care, Prof. Borisch also presented the results of a previous EUROPA DONNA survey on specialist breast unit implementation and pointed out that some of the wealthiest countries in the world have yet to implement population-based mammography screening and specialist breast units. In addition to bureaucratic and financial barriers, she mentioned “professional tribalism”, i.e., the reluctance of some professionals to work together. Lesley Fallowfield, of the University of Sussex, emphasised the importance of a well-functioning, communicative multidisciplinary team, for the benefit of the members and their patients.
Presenting the 20-year results from the Dutch national breast cancer screening programme, which now includes women aged 50-75, Jacques Fracheboud from Erasmus Medical Centre said that the programme has contributed to a decrease in breast cancer mortality, and that its benefits outweigh all the potential negative effects. A study presented later by his colleague Rianne de Gelder estimated that in 2008, adjuvant treatment reduced breast cancer deaths by almost 14%, while biennial screening reduced deaths by almost an additional 16%.
In a first ever session dedicated to “survivorship”, Julia Rowland of the U.S. National Cancer Institute described how advocacy in her country led to the creation of the Office of Cancer Survivorship, of which she is the director. With the growing population, and the fact that due to early detection the vast majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer can expect to live beyond 5 years, research and attention must be focussed on the issues concerning this population. She added that the transition to recovery can be stressful for both the woman and her family, and long-term effects of treatment such as fatigue need to be addressed. EUROPA DONNA members Mojca Miklavcic and Ingrid Kössler then gave moving accounts of their personal experience with survivorship and advocacy.
There was also promising news for younger women. Hatem Azim of the Jules Bordet Institute presented trial results showing that pregnancy is not only safe after breast cancer, it might have a protective effect.
In a well-attended, early morning EUROPA DONNA Teaching Lecture, Isabelle Romieu, Head of the Section of Nutrition and Metabolism at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, covered the lifestyle factors that could help in preventing breast cancer. She said that research is now targeted at identifying the subgroups of breast cancer types that could benefit from certain lifestyle interventions. She reiterated that minimal alcohol consumption, avoiding obesity, eating a low-fat, high-fibre diet and avoiding sweet drinks could help to reduce breast cancer risk. Many of these are the messages of EUROPA DONNA’s annual Breast Health Day campaign, which was outlined by Susan Knox, EUROPA DONNA Executive Director. Lifestyle was also the topic of a lively Oxford Debate. A further study presented by Dutch experts indicated that cognitive behavioural therapy and physical exercise can have beneficial effects on treatment-induced menopausal symptoms. In an additional study presented by Jennifer Ligibel from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, women who were overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis were found to have a higher risk of recurrence and a shorter survival than their leaner counterparts.
A EUROPA DONNA session focussed on advocating for the unaddressed needs of women with metastatic breast cancer, who often feel marginalised in current breast care facilities. A panel discussion followed regarding the metastatic setting content to be included in the next edition of the European Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis.
EUROPA DONNA daily “Wrap Up” sessions of the clinical science symposia were widely attended by advocates and scientists.
The European Breast Cancer Conference, held every two years, brings together the voices of doctors, researchers, nurses and advocates, and is the only conference of its kind to represent patient advocacy and major breast cancer institutions in one arena. The next conference, EBCC-9, is to be held 19-21 March 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
More information on the conference is available through the European Cancer Organisation (
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