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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Tailored cancer care in focus at Europe's largest oncology summit

Nick Webster writes from Madrid about new techniques moving beyond one treatment for all

The latest breakthroughs in the ongoing battle to eradicate cancer are the focus of the largest dedicated conference of its kind in Europe.

Madrid is hosting the 2017 European Society for Medical Oncology congress, offering academics, doctors and medical students from all over the world an opportunity to display the latest research in the field.

The five-day event in the Spanish capital is an opportunity to exchange ideas and offer collaboration between researchers and pharmaceutical companies to improve the lives of cancer patients.

Key themes were development of a more tailored approach towards cancer care, rather than offering one treatment that is suitable for all.

By targeting specific biomarkers that may offer a pre-cursor to cancer, research is increasing the chance of an earlier diagnoses and better outcome, with gene specific treatments.

Other breakthroughs discussed included improvements in lung cancer outcomes by using inhibitors that unmask cancer cells to the immune system.

Doctors have more information at their fingertips than ever before, and a growing number of ways in which to help the killer disease retreat.

Dr Aleix Prat is head of the Clinical Oncology Department at Hospital Clinic, Barcelona and on the executive board of the Breast International Group – an international non-profit organisation of more than 56 co-operative groups around the world, combining 10,000 experts and linked to more than 3,000 hospitals.

Its main goal is to promote research in breast cancer, which remains the most common form of the disease in women in the UAE.

Some of the work he discussed at ESMO included identifying germline genetic factors that influence the risk of metastatic breast cancer in more than 8,400 patients over five years.

“This was the first research of this kind, as far as I know, to link this genetic data with the risk of developing this particular breast cancer,” he said.

“Potential prognostic biomarkers such as this seems very promising, so more research is needed in this area.”

Other work from students and academics was displayed on posters and interactive plasma screens around the sprawling venue at the IFEMA convention centre, Feria de Madrid.

It included research into the loneliness and cognitive dysfunction in elderly cancer patients by Ankara University in Turkey.

A study of 334 elderly cancer patients found their cognitive functions of memory, language, attention and reasoning worsened when combined with increased loneliness.

Depression was the major risk factor, with researchers calling for mandatory routine evaluations of mental decline in geriatric cancer patients.

Portuguese children with cancer were the focus of another study presented by academics in Lisbon.

Their study of 300 children over a six-year period included research in how many suffered aggressive care at the end of their lives.

Indicators included how many had intravenous chemotherapy, spent more than 14 days in hospital, were admitted to intensive care, endured advanced life support such as resuscitation or had medical devices inserted to keep them alive.

The average age of the children was just 9, with 80 per cent dying of cancer experiencing aggressive care in the last month of life.

“I work on basic cancer biology, so this is an opportunity to understand what the clinical needs are that we need to address in our research at the bench,” said Fiorella Magani, an Argentinian Phd researcher of cancer biology at the University of Miami.

“I’m going to continue researching cancer biology, and I’m currently working in the area of prostate cancer to identify noble targets, so eventually a drug can be developed to attack them specifically.”