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Transforming Breast Cancer Together

Date

11 Mar 2021

Sections

Health & Consumers
‘Shedding a light on women’s health: Discussing the realities of living with breast cancer during COVID-19’

The World Health Organisation announced that breast cancer tops the list of the most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide in 2020. Yet, despite these staggering figures, patients still encounter major barriers to access quality cancer care across Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated this situation further, as the continuity of cancer treatments, trials and care have been severely disrupted.

 

To mark International Women’s Day, on 10 March 2021, the Transforming Breast Cancer Initiative (TBCT) organised a virtual event raising awareness about this ever-increasing health threat for women. The webinar brought together breast cancer patients, physicians and policymakers to discuss this pressing issue. Speakers identified underlying challenges that breast cancer patients and survivors face daily and addressed crucial questions related to the disease.

 

The event was chaired by Frances Fitzgerald, MEP and Chair of Transforming Breast Cancer Together initiative. In her opening remarks, MEP Fitzgerald welcomed the recently launched Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the greater focus placed on cancer throughout Europe. The MEP highlighted the importance of ensuring that the Plan’s ambition is translated into early prevention services and greater resources for the medical profession. Citing her recently adopted report on “The gender perspective in the COVID-19 crisis and post-crisis period”, Fitzgerald shed light on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis.

 

The challenges and consequences brought by COVID-19 to breast cancer patients and survivors have a severe impact on the quality of life for patients and their families. Barbara Klein, Communications Officer at Europa Donna – the European Breast Cancer Coalition - gave a powerful testimony, narrating her own cancer journey in times of COVID-19, offering an insight into the daily reality of a breast cancer patient during the pandemic. She explained the often-invisible difficulties that patients encounter on a personal and professional level and stressed the need for an appropriate provision of protection and support.

Renown oncologists, such as Dr Isabel Rubio, Head of Breast Surgical Oncology at Clinica Universidad de Navarra in Madrid and Dr Fatima Cardoso, Director of the Breast Unit of the Champalimaud Clinical Center in Lisbon, provided details on the disruptive impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on cancer services and treatment pathways. Dr Rubio talked about the negative consequences of the pandemic on cancer and delayed diagnosis, while Dr Cardoso covered COVID-19 impact on advanced breast cancer patients and patients in palliative and terminal care. Dr Cardoso called on healthcare professionals to have increased awareness of the needs of advanced cancer patients and to allow room for flexibility during difficult moments, such as cancer diagnosis. Both concluded that the pandemic has significantly intensified the already existing shortcomings in breast cancer services across the European Union.

With over a hundred participants attending the webinar, many flagged a number of issues, highlighting patient’s concerns around COVID-19 vaccinations and cancer screening or treatment procedures.

 

The event concluded that we must adapt and learn how to live with the pandemic. Ensuring patients feel safe to get screened regularly and seek medical advice and treatment when needed, is of utmost importance.

 

About Transforming Breast Cancer Together

The ‘Transforming Breast Cancer Together’ initiative was launched in 2017 following an event hosted in the European Parliament. Since then it has been working towards bringing together patients, policymakers, organisations and companies who are deeply committed to breast cancer care with the aim to provide continuity to common efforts to improve breast cancer care in Europe. The initiative, chaired by MEP Frances Fitzgerald (EPP) and MEP Patrizia Toia (S&D) works tirelessly to increase the understanding of the daily realities of living with early and advanced breast cancer, to garner attention to the additional challenges brought about by the pandemic and finally, to ensure that policymaking reflects both the individual and the societal disease burden.

 

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