Lower Mortality Rates, Over-treatment Will Be Key Breast Cancer Conference Topics

Lower Mortality Rates, Over-treatment Will Be Key Breast Cancer Conference Topics

A one-third drop in breast cancer deaths the past three decades will be a major topic at an international conference in Vienna from March 14-18 focusing on detection and treatment developments.

The 15th St. Gallen Breast Cancer Conference, and the 3rd Vienna Breast Surgery Day that is associated with it, has attracted 5,000 breast cancer experts from around the world.

Breast cancer over-treatment and improving patients’ quality of life will be other important topics at the event. Specialists at the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital will be among those calling for a new focus on improving quality of life.

Advances in detection and treatment are the main reasons more women are surviving breast cancer. Molecular-biological approaches, and interdisciplinary treatment plans, were central to achieving this result.

“Nowadays, we believe that successful treatment is only possible by taking a more interdisciplinary approach,” Michael Gnant, head of surgery at MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, said in a news release.

“We are able to provide this at the CCC of MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, because we have combined all the disciplines under one roof. These include fundamental cancer research, the specialist areas involved and clinical research, and this enables us to keep our finger on the pulse of medical progress,” said Gnant, who is also the CCC’s deputy head and the president of the Austrian Breast & Colorectal Cancer Study Group.

The conference has gained a reputation as the event where leading breast cancer specialists can exchange ideas about optimal treatments for their patients. The consensus on treatments that arise at the conference is often translated into guidelines that doctors around the world follow.

“We are very proud to have been able to bring the conference to Vienna two years ago. The fact that we were able to do so shows that our expertise is also recognised on an international level,” Gnant said. “During the time of the conference, Vienna is truly ‘the center of the world’ in terms of breast cancer treatment.”

Surgery continues to play a central role in breast cancer treatment. In 96 percent of cases it is part of the interdisciplinary approach that has taken the treatment world by storm. Experts agree that interdisciplinary treatment is a major reason why breast cancer survival rates have jumped.

Doctors agree that their patients’ quality of life is of great importance, however — and that is why the issue will be a key topic at the conference.

Gnant and his colleagues at the Comprehensive Cancer Center will be among those addressing over-treatment. This is treatment that not only fails to benefit patients, but whose side effects can also diminish their quality of life.

An example of a breast cancer that is often over-treated is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). It is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer, accounting for 30 percent of diagnoses.

Ductal refers to the cancer starting in the milk ducts. Carcinoma refers to a cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues — including breast tissue — that cover or line internal organs. And in situ means “in its original location.”

DCIS is called non-invasive because it hasn’t spread beyond the milk ducts to surrounding breast tissue.

Yet, after surgery, DCIS patients usually receive radiotherapy or anti-hormone therapy, or both, which can have severe side effects.

“Over-treatment often has huge side effects for patients without providing any therapeutic benefit. At the conference, we are therefore going to discuss the question with international experts and thrash out the optimum strategy for treating DCIS,” said Florian Fitzal, who along with Gnant and Farid Moinfar, are the conference chairs. “The long-term aim is to make a more accurate distinction between DCIS cases and divide them into biological subtypes, so that we are able to filter out those that do not require any further treatment following surgery.”

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