Surgery Offers Best Chance in Cancer but Needs More 'Support'

Liam Davenport

November 15, 2021

Surgery offers the best chance of a cure for patients with early cancer and is fundamental to cancer management, but it does not receive enough political and financial recognition, warns a European expert.

In addition, there are many obstacles to the delivery of optimal cancer surgery, says Domenico M. D'Ugo, MD, professor of surgery at the Catholic University of Rome―A. Gemelli Medical School, Rome, Italy.

D'Ugo, who is president of the European Society of Surgical Oncology (ESSO), calls for a range of measures to improve the quality of cancer surgery and patient access in Europe.

These measures include recognition of surgical oncology as a specialist discipline, greater support for surgical research and innovation, and a greater role for surgery in multidisciplinary care.

The demands were made in open letter that was published by ESSO on November 9 to coincide with the society's annual meeting, held in Lisbon, Portugal.

The theme of this year's meeting was the future of cancer surgery in Europe ― a future that "holds many promises to make surgical oncology safer, more efficient and minimally invasive," writes D'Ugo.

However, ESSO needs the support of European leaders to bring the recommendations to life and, ultimately, to help provide high-quality cancer treatment, he adds. This is particularly important given the upcoming implementation of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan.

The open letter is addressed to Stella Kyriakides, European commissioner for health and food safety, and Bartosz Arłukowicz, chair of the European Parliament Special Committee on Beating Cancer, among others.

Best Chance of Cure

"High-quality surgery remains the best chance to cure solid cancer when diagnosed early," D'Ugo notes in his letter. It is also the most cost-effective treatment for the majority of nonmetastasized tumors, he writes.

In addition, surgery is "fundamental" to the prevention of cancer in patients with inherited susceptibility and to the diagnosis and staging of cancer, as well as to the treatment of metastatic disease, the preservation of quality of life, and the alleviation of cancer symptoms, he writes.

There is thus a substantial and steadily growing demand for surgical oncology.

It is estimated that approximately 80% of cancer patients will require surgical intervention at some point during the course of their disease, and 45 million surgical procedures will be needed worldwide by 2030.

D'Ugo says that at present, fewer than a quarter of cancer patients receive safe, affordable, or timely surgery.

It is time to give surgical oncology the political and financial attention it deserves, he argues. He outlines a four-point plan to achieve this.

The first point is to enhance recognition of surgical oncology as a specialist discipline through, for example, the global curriculum proposed by ESSO and the Society of Surgical Oncology in 2016.

At present, only eight countries in Europe recognize surgical oncology as a specialty, and the lack of harmonization is "causing disparities in training, qualifications and practices," as well as in patient access, D'Ugo says.

Next is a call to support research and innovation. Despite recent advances, research in cancer surgery "remains highly underfunded in Europe when compared with pharmaceutical research," he says.

Improved screening and early detection of cancer are the next key area, because when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, curative surgery has "a greater chance to be successful."

At present, screening programs in Europe address only colorectal, breast, and cervical cancers, and the uptake remains "low," he writes.

Lastly, he emphasizes that surgery is "integral" to multidisciplinary care and that outcomes for patients are better in comprehensive cancer centers that support patients throughout the disease pathway.

D'Ugo suggests that surgical oncologists take on a "bigger role" in multidisciplinary care, and he calls for the certification and accreditation of cancer units to increase and unify standards of care across the region.

D'Ugo has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

ESSO. Time for Change: Harnessing the Full Potential of Surgical Oncology for Cancer. Abstract

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