Gold Standard in Cancer Patient Care Is Possible

The Netherlands set the pace
in treating breast cancer
© NCI Visuals Online

Dr Emil Rutgers, from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, described a very low-tech approach to accelerated management of patients suspected of having breast cancer. They set up and achieved targets for faster diagnosis (two weeks), reduced time to operation (three weeks), and reduction of unnecessary operations (10-35%).

All patients visiting a breast cancer clinic were evaluated pre-op by a multidisciplinary team, and yields of cells obtained from the breast lump were improved by only allowing trained professionals to do the breast punctures and by increasing the use of image guided biopsies. 22 teams around Holland took part, and 19 achieved a waiting time of one week. Many others achieved two to three weeks in other countries, but few got the subsequent time to diagnosis down to one week (18 hospital breakthrough teams did it in this study). And magnificently, all 22 teams had their patients in the operating room for surgical treatment within three weeks, ten teams doing this within two weeks.

Surely if the Netherlands can do this, every other European country must strive harder to reproduce this exemplary performance. Ingrid Kössler, President of the Cancer Association Europa Donna comments, "One of the worst experiences a woman can suffer is the delay and uncertainty which follows suspicion of a cancer in the breast. In some countries the time from the family doctor or patient herself finding a lump to first surgical treatment can be two months. Surely this is unnecessary. We congratulate the Dutch breakthrough teams and urge healthcare professionals and politicians to take note of what is possible and we advise breast cancer patients not to accept lower standards of care."; Source: Federation of European Cancer Societies