World Cancer Day 2020: Addressing unmet need in women’s cancers
February 04, 2020
By Richard Hausmann
Today is World Cancer Day but cancer is a global epidemic that warrants attention and action every day of the year. It is a disease that strikes everywhere regardless of age, gender or socio-economic status. At Elekta, we work to bring effective and cost-effective solutions to the challenges that cancer poses to patients, physicians, societies and economies. Despite the broad view of cancer that informs everything we do at Elekta, today, on World Cancer Day, I want to focus on the ongoing unmet needs – and some innovative solutions – in women’s cancers.
Women’s cancers, including breast and cervical cancer, are treatable and often cured with modern oncology approaches. However, many developing countries lack the equipment and professional expertise to deliver effective treatment for these cancers, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Fortunately, government entities, non-governmental organizations, and healthcare industry leaders are working collaboratively to provide innovative solutions that improve outcomes in women’s cancers and have the potential to reduce the unnecessary and tragic loss of lives. I am proud of the role that Elekta is playing in such collaborative efforts.
As a leader in radiation therapy, Elekta has an important role to play in advancing the treatment of cancer. We have had a longstanding relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organization that works with member states and multiple partners to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies. Elekta has provided both educational services and equipment to a variety of cancer-related projects that the IAEA has initiated.
In 2019, the Partnership Initiative to Increase Access to Diagnostics and Treatment of Women’s Cancers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries was launched to raise $10 million for projects designed to tackle women’s cancers in 17 countries. These projects are designed to expand cancer programs for breast and cervical cancer in over 40 facilities throughout the target countries through the procurement of relevant equipment, training and educating cancer care professionals and enhancing quality assurance in the use of radiation medicine.
Radiation therapy plays a foundational role in treating breast and cervical cancers, yet in many of the 17 countries supported by this initiative, less than 25% of cancer patients have access to such treatment.
While all cancers can be difficult for the patients living with them, and for these patients’ families and loved ones, cervical cancer has additional effects on societies and economies. This is because, unlike other cancers that typically appear later in life, cervical cancer is typically diagnosed in the prime years of women’s families and work lives. Women who die due to cervical cancer often leave young children without a mother and wage-earner, and economies are negatively affected because women are increasingly entrepreneurial and play a key role in stabilizing and building their local economies. Women may also have a reduced ability to engage in daily family and work activities while undergoing treatment for cervical cancer.
Given the urgent need to advance cervical cancer care, especially in developing economies, Elekta has made a significant contribution to support the IAEA initiative. This contribution is being made in the form of brachytherapy training modules that Elekta has developed with its clinical partners through the Elekta BrachyAcademy, a peer-to-peer educational platform. This module will be used to train physicians and medical physicists within the countries supported by the partnership. As part of this training module, Elekta is also providing demonstration equipment, workstations, materials for the training, and support of clinical application specialists.
A recent study found that, while cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally, it is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women in eastern, western, middle and southern Africa.
Brachytherapy enables personalized, precision radiation medicine in the treatment of cervical cancer and with 3D images, it allows more precise targeting of the radiation, which can allow a higher dose to be used while still protecting healthy tissue. This may increase efficacy while also reducing patients’ treatment burden by allowing the full dose to be delivered over fewer treatment sessions.
Ensuring that women with cervical cancer receive treatment that includes brachytherapy is essential for improving health outcomes.
My hope is that Elekta’s contribution to this initiative will help to spread the use of brachytherapy in the treatment of cervical cancer to other hospitals and countries. Our vision is that the participants in the program will go on to establish centers of brachytherapy excellence within their home institutions, and that these centers will allow them to share knowledge and best practices with other radiation oncologists and medical physicists within their countries and global regions.
Increasing global access to all radiotherapy solutions is a key Elekta mission for 2020 and the decade ahead. We are grateful that so many others around the world share this vision and are implementing collaborative programs that recognize the important role that industry has to play in addressing the global cancer epidemic and provide us with opportunities to contribute. Addressing cancer across genders, countries, societies and economies requires that all of us do our part.
On World Cancer Day, I encourage each of you to find ways to make a difference in the life of patients living with cancer. I am Richard Hausmann, and I will continue to ensure that Elekta provides real-world solutions to the challenges that patients with cancers and those who care from them face every day.