On World Cancer Day, ESMO Renews a Longstanding Commitment to Closing the Cancer Care Gap [ESMO Press Release]

LUGANO, Switzerland – ESMO, the leading professional organisation for medical oncology, is joining the global community on the occasion of this year’s World Cancer Day (WCD) to reiterate its strong commitment to supporting the “Close the care gap” campaign and securing greater access to care for all cancer patients, regardless of where they live, their financial situation or their lifestyle choices.

“ESMO is painfully aware of the cancer care gap: for many years the Society has been working relentlessly to help close it by providing healthcare professionals and institutions alike with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to address health inequities and reduce the global impact of cancer,” says ESMO President Prof Solange Peters.

The 2022 WCD “Close the care gap” campaign exposes significant barriers related to socioeconomic factors that prevent many people from accessing life-saving prevention services, diagnostics, treatment and care. These barriers are due to cultural contexts, geographical location, gender norms, income and education levels and discrimination or assumptions based on age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability and lifestyle—and they lead to wide discrepancies in the risks of developing and surviving cancer.

High-quality cancer care at every income level

Nine out of 10 women who die of cervical cancer, for example, live in low- and middle-income countries (1) where lack of HPV vaccination, lifestyle-related risk factors, delayed diagnosis due to the absence of screening programmes and unavailability of, or inadequate access to, effective treatment constitute as many obstacles to optimal patient care and outcomes. ESMO studies on the accessibility and availability of anticancer medicines in and outside Europe have helped to show that medicine shortages affect people with various other types of cancer, in every region of the world. The results of the studies have made it possible for ESMO to address the topic of access to medicines at European and global policy levels, develop tools and resources to help countries achieve sustainable cancer care, and provide recommendations on how to prevent and manage cancer medicines shortages.

Appropriate treatment regardless of who you are

At the same time, differences between patient populations and persisting disparities in cancer care across the globe mean that, in practice, a single standard cannot fit all realities. To prevent patients’ origin or ethnicity from impacting their chances of beating the illness, ESMO initiated the Pan-Asian Guidelines Adaptation (PAGA) project to integrate ethnic, scientific, socio-economic and local practice characteristics into the production of reference documents designed to align ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines more closely with the actual conditions across Asia.  

ESMO has also been making targeted efforts to remove the barriers related to sex, gender, sexual orientation and age that hinder cancer patients from receiving the care they need. Among these, the ESMO/SIOPE Cancer in Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) Working Group has been active since 2016 to promote education about the specificities—including distinct tumour biology and poor access to clinical trials—of young patients caught at the crossroads between paediatric and adult cancer services. A recent survey by the AYA Working Group additionally revealed a significant need for oncologist training in the management of LGBTQ patients, to ensure that the psychosocial support and therapeutic options these individuals are offered are not limited by false assumptions or miscommunication with their medical team.   

Meanwhile the ESMO Gender Medicine Task Force, launched in 2019, has been working to improve knowledge of how sex and gender differences can affect the biology and treatment outcomes of non-sex related cancers. In light of mounting evidence that men and women respond differently to various anticancer medicines, the task force encourages oncologists to consider sex and gender aspects more systematically in their clinical practice and research.

A healthy healthcare system

Most recently, the Society reacted to the unprecedented strain placed by the global COVID-19 pandemic on the oncology workforce—the linchpin in every system of cancer care—with the creation of the ESMO Resilience Task Force. Aiming to understand the risk factors of an inadequate work-life balance and work-related stress through a series of global surveys, the task force will leverage insights gained during the health crisis to develop solutions to support the long-term welfare of the oncology community.     

“As the pandemic continues to affect healthcare professionals’ working conditions, risk of burnout and ability to care effectively for patients, taking care of the carers will remain indissociable from any other effort we make to reduce the inequities facing people with cancer,” the ESMO President emphasises.

Efficient and widely accessible cancer services will save countless individuals from a premature and often painful death. Greater equity in healthcare will also strengthen families and communities, benefit the economy with greater workforce participation and offer net savings to health budgets.

The campaign website for World Cancer Day provides extensive details on the different barriers people are experiencing in accessing care, how this affects prevention, treatment, survival and support, and offers examples of actions that governments, organisations and individuals around the world can take to close the gap in cancer care.

Notes

“Close the care gap” is the theme of the new three-year campaign for World Cancer Day, one of the most important health awareness days in the year led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to promote greater equity in health care provision for all populations.

References

  1. R. Hull, M. Mbele, T. Makhafola, C. Hicks, S-M. Wang, R.M. Reis, R. Mehrotra, Z. Mkhize-Kwitshana, G. Kibiki, D.O. Bates and Z. Dlamini. Cervical cancer in low and middle-income countries. https://doi.org/10.3892/ol.2020.11754

About World Cancer Day

World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4th February and is the uniting global initiative under which the world comes together to raise the profile of cancer in a positive and inspiring way. Spearheaded by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the day aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and improving education about the disease while calling for action from governments and individuals across the world.

For more information, please visit: www.worldcancerday.org

For more information about specific country events, please visit: www.worldcancerday.org/map

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