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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Breast cancer advances 'due to patients'
Breast cancer
One in 12 women will get breast cancer
Many of the advances in the treatment of breast cancer have been due to patients, according to experts.

Doctors attending the second European Breast Cancer Conference in Brussels this week will be told that patient-power has been responsible for many changes in how women with the disease are cared for.

Dr Martine Piccart, head of the chemotherapy department at the Institute Jules Bordet, in Brussels, will address the conference on Tuesday.

Patient power has been a positive force for good

Dr Martine Piccart, Institute Jules Bordet, Brussels
She will tell doctors that patients have influenced breast cancer treatment in a variety of ways, including how clinical trials are run and by securing funding to fight the disease.

"Patient power has been a positive force for good in improving clinical trial design, for example, as well as in encouraging people to take part in trials.

"In some countries, it has resulted in increased funding for cancer research, a crucial issue if we want tomorrow's treatment to be better than that of today."

Dr Piccart will tell the conference that doctors and other healthcare professionals are working together to gear treatment towards the patient.

"Gone for good are the days when the only effective treatment was a radical mastectomy.

'More clinical tests needed'

"Now surgeons, chemotherapists, radiotherapists, nurses and psychologists are working together to bring the best possible combination of therapies to the individual patient."

Dr Piccart believes that future advances in breast cancer treatment will come through more clinical trials of new procedures and drugs.

She suggests that further advances can be achieved quickly if they are tested throughout Europe.

"Large high quality pan-European clinical trials are essential to amass data quickly.

"They are the fast-track to state-of-the-art treatment and increasingly they are taking a multi-disciplinary approach, involving surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy combinations."

More than 35,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year - two thirds are alive five years on, although 1,000 die every month from the disease.

Breast cancer screening programmes have helped to cut the number of deaths from the disease.

Cure 'a long way off'

"The truth is that there is probably a lot of good news and progress, but that we are still a long way from being able to say that we have effective treatments and cures for every type of breast cancer," said Dr Piccart.

"However, new medical technologies such as micro-arrays, are bringing the day closer when treatment will be tailored to an individual patient."

Dr Piccart will also suggest that co-operation between all healthcare professionals is the way forward.

"I am convinced that it is through this kind of co-operation between all those involved in a disease, from whatever perspective, that we will find that way forward and may start to hope that the 21st century will be beginning of the end for breast cancer," she said.

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