Letter from the International Affairs Committee Chair: Oncologists for Science and Peace

Letter from the International Affairs Committee Chair: Oncologists for Science and Peace

International Perspectives

Dec 13, 2013

By Nagi S. El Saghir, MD, FACP

The second Advanced Breast Cancer Consensus Conference (ABC2), organized by the European School of Oncology, was chaired by Drs. Fatima Cardoso, Alberto Costa, Larry Norton, and Eric Winer, and held in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2013. I was one of 41 panelists and over 1,000 participants from 71 countries who had a wonderful experience exploring the latest advancements in oncology in order to agree on better ways to care for our patients and improve the quality of their lives.

ABC2 guidelines, which will be published in early 2014, are evidence-based where there is strong evidence and expert-based where the evidence is less apparent. They are also, at times, resource-sensitive, and stress the importance of reducing disparities in access to care for all patients with cancer worldwide. At ABC2, we witnessed a great participation of oncology nurses and patient advocates, and they had great enthusiasm and ideas to promote better understanding of the needs of patients with breast cancer across different countries and cultures. It was nice to hear health care providers and patient advocates from all over the world, including war-troubled countries, come together and discuss even the minute details of patients’ medical and psychological concerns in order to share experiences and find better solutions to disseminate guidelines, improve access to care and medications, advance education, dispel taboos, and improve survival and quality of life for all patients across continents.

For many participants, when they return to their countries, they face natural disasters beyond anyone’s control, and can only depend on their governments to take preventive safety measures; others have to face the consequences of man-made disasters, such as wars, violence, and terrorist acts. Taking care of casualties of wars and violence supersedes other health priorities. Later on, patients with cancer suffer from the paucity of advanced medical infrastructures and the lack of enough well-trained health care professionals of whom many would have immigrated to safer countries. Speaking from personal experience, large numbers of Iraqi and Syrian patients travel to Lebanon and other neighboring countries searching for cancer care. This puts extraordinary pressures on them and their families and has adverse effects on the quality of their lives. We physicians should be more active in alerting politicians and the press of the need to deal with the consequences of wars and terrorism on health, particularly when it comes to cancer diagnosis and patients’ management.

In Lisbon, Portugal, I had another fruitful ongoing side discussion about war and peace with my friend Larry Norton, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. We oncologists are very well placed to promote peace, justice, and tolerance. While we expend extraordinary efforts to cure patients, or prolong their lives for a few years or even just a few months, or improve the quality of their lives, many politicians and fighters can take lives away, cause injuries, and make healthy people and families miserable with the bullets of wars.

At ASCO, we promote education, knowledge, and research to conquer cancer, reduce disparities, and improve patient outcome worldwide. “Oncologists for Science and Peace” is yet another aspect that could also nicely fit under the umbrella of the “Science and Society” theme that ASCO President Dr. Clifford Hudis has chosen during 2014 and ASCO’s 50th anniversary!

Nagi S. El Saghir, MD, FACP, is the 2014 Chair of the ASCO International Affairs Committee. He also serves as Professor and Director of the Breast Center of Excellence  at the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute, a part of the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon.

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