Improving Health Outcomes in Breast Cancer: Recommendations of the Breast Cancer Working Group

March 2010

Breast Cancer: clear issues in unmet need, access and cost

Cancer Research UK notes, “Worldwide, more than a million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, accounting for a tenth of all new cancers and 23% of all female cancer cases.” Around 429,900 new cases of breast cancer occur each year in Europe and an estimated 184,450 in the United States. The lowest European rates are in eastern and southern Europe and the highest are in northern and western Europe. In Europe an estimated 132,000 people will die of breast cancer. Stella Kyriakides, past president of Europa Donna, highlighted the urgency of addressing this disease, “Within the European Union, every 2.5 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Every 7.5 minutes a woman dies from the disease.”  

For all its unfortunate familiarity, all acknowledge that there are too few, effective courses of treatment for patients facing this life threatening disease. The complexity of the science underlying breast cancer tumour development and progression, i.e. the unique heterogeneity of each tumour, complicates the treatment regime as well as development of specific medicines for affected individuals.  

Given the general high cost of treatment regimes for breast cancer, all also recognise the issues of access and burden of cost of breast cancer treatments to healthcare systems working within limited budgets. The broader media has particularly focused attention on the themes of value and sustainability in healthcare, as illustrated by one headline in the 2 July 2009 Wall Street Journal: “Cost-effectiveness of Cancer drugs is Questioned.” The article quotes a recent National Cancer Institute study  in which “the widespread use of expensive cancer drugs to prolong patients’ lives by just weeks or months was called into question.” These pressures are particularly amplified in the current environment with the strong economic pressures and potential budgetary cuts that face European member states across all ministries and functions.