Martine Piccart, MD, PhD: Her Goals As the Current President Of ESMO

 

Dr. Martine Piccart, the current president of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), discusses the issues she would like to focus on during her two years as president. These include addressing the inequalities in cancer outcomes across Europe and improving them as well as how to cope with the shortage of medical oncologists for the future.

Dr. Piccart is Professor of Oncology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Director of the Medicine Department at the Institut Jules Bordet, in Brussels, Belgium.

 

 

The Group Room at the 34th Annual CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium was made possible by support from:

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Selma Schimmel, Founder & CEO, Vital Options International:

Hello and welcome to the Group Room where we’re at the 34th Annual CTRC – AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. We are now joined by Professor-Doctor Martine Piccart who is the Director of Medicine at the Institute of Jules-Bordet, she is Professor of Oncology at the Free University of Brussels, and also the incoming president of the European Society of Medical Oncology, known as ESMO, and the Free University of Brussels, Professor Piccart, in French is known as….

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD, Current President, European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO):

Universite Libre de Bruxelles.

Selma Schimmel:

Thank you. Welcome, and I know how busy you are.  And your work is so important. You’re probably the most important breast cancer specialist in Europe that is now assuming leadership of ESMO and I think it’s terribly exciting, and also seeing a woman come in as President of ESMO is fantastic.

And what I’d love to talk to you about are some of your plans for ESMO, and also the IMPAKT meeting and what the goals and the purpose of that meeting is, and the message that you want patients to hear – patient advocacy in Europe is really growing, and patients are becoming far more informed and using their voices very differently than they have in the past, which also is probably changing some of the dynamics between the European physicians and how they’re deal with patients.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

So as you can imagine becoming president of ESMO is a huge responsibility. You only have two years to try to achieve something. So I have many things I would like to change but I have to prioritize. And one of the things that is really upsetting me quite a bit is the inequalities in cancer outcome across Europe, and I really want, together with my colleagues on the ESMO board, to try to understand what we can do to change this. So the outcome of cancer patients in Eastern Europe are worse than the ones in Western Europe. So an organization like ESMO I think needs to examine what the reasons can be and then try to something about that. And that will be goal number one.

The second worry I have is the fact that we are going to be short of medical oncologists [INAUDIBLE], and we need to prepare for that. And I want to examine again with my colleagues, what we could do to motivate doctors to go into medical oncology and then also try to help medical oncologists coping with a very stressful profession, as well as a need to understand biology of cancer because multiple new drugs are coming, and if you don’t understand the biology behind it’s really difficult to be a very good doctor.

So here also ESMO wants to develop new tools to help medical oncologists in the community, not only in academic hospitals, to do a better job for their patients.

Selma Schimmel:

These are not so dissimilar from the problems we have in the US. We’re facing a shortage of physicians and medical oncology here. What do you attribute this to in Europe?

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

It’s difficult to say but I think that we have an aging population, so cancer becomes a huge problem and we need to prepare for that, and I’m not sure that politicians have been thinking about this. So we have to become very proactive and we have to find some solution so that we don’t face a terrible situation in ten to fifteen years.

Selma Schimmel:

And also when you look at Europe – each country – while people tend to think as Europe as one place in the sense of health care and the way health care is delivered it’s not so; each country has its own policies and its own system where there’s some similarities but it’s different throughout Europe and then you have the addition of patients that are suddenly accessing information in new ways as patients in Europe are getting more information on their computers, and the pressure for the medical oncologists to also keep up with the demands of a newly informed cancer patient, that has to be a new challenge.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

I fully agree with you. We face a huge intelligent [INAUDIBLE] in Europe. And this can be also seen in multiple guidelines we have across Europe. It’s not like in the United States; we have multiple guidelines, national guidelines, ESMO guidelines. So here also we will have to look into that because patients travel, they go from one country to another, and they can be very disturbed by what they hear; one doctor is going to talk about one treatment, another one will say that this is not at all right treatment, so here also will have to try to do something.

And ESMO has recently established a partnership with an organization that is going to try to provide optimal information to patients independently from the cancer they have. So for example, explanations on why we do this on this treatment and where they can find support, really, really good information in lay language and that will help them and guide them as they struggle to get cured.

Selma Schimmel:

ASCO, the American Society of Clinical Oncology in the United States and ESMO have a very important collaborations happening. As you assume the presidency of ESMO how do you foresee some of the evolving role that you would like to see happen between the two societies?

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

I’ve been fortunate to be a member of ESCO board for two years so I’ve been sitting there and understanding what are the problems medical oncologists and oncologists in general face in the United States. And I’ve been very impressed by the dynamic of ASCO and all the solutions they are currently trying to build to the problems and so because I have this experience I think it’s going to be easier for me to have a dialogue with them and as a matter of fact, we face exactly the same problems. So I think we can do better things if we talk to one another and incoming president of ASCO is Sandra Swain whom I know who is a breast cancer specialist so I hope that we can really take advantage of all this when we be presidents together.

Selma Schimmel:

The responsibility of a medical oncologist today is very complex. Imagine if you are an older medical oncologist that wasn’t trained in the way we understand the biology of cancer as we understand it today, how complex is it – it’s not enough to treat the patient now, you have to understand the biology of cancer in a way you never had to understand it, and I don’t know how doctors keep up on all this – and the younger generation, they’re being trained differently but when I think about the community based oncologist here in the States that we’ll see all the spectrum of cancers who’s not specialized in one cancer how is it possible to keep up on the volume of information, the speed at which this is changing and understanding the molecular therapies that are available? It seems to me like an overwhelming task.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

You are right. It’s a big challenge, especially for medical oncologists who are incredibly busy. They are working with only one or two colleagues in very small hospitals but here I think ESMO is really trying to help, and we recently acquired a fabulous program called Onco-Pro, which is a program you can access when you are an ESMO member, and it really gives you opportunities to get to know very quickly and easily what is happening in the field. So you can access summaries of meetings, you can access important information related to new drugs, discoveries, use a friendly way so we think that this is a very great tool that we have developed for our members.

Selma Schimmel:

An area that also ESMO has been so instrumental in is palliative care. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with Professor Cherney, it’s now a very important agenda here for ASCO but ESMO has really done some fantastic outreach and education in the area of palliative care. I think in Europe there’s less taboo about speaking of end-of-life and death and mortality may be more easily integrated into the culture and the ability for society to talk about. This very normal, difficult part of life but you can’t escape it. Will you talk to us a little bit about palliative care and the position ESMO has, and also how medical oncologists deal with this difficult subject with patients in Europe.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

I think medical oncologists are there to accommodate their patients until the very end. That’s our role and it’s a very important role, and you are right, ESMO has been interested in quality of palliative care for many, many years and has also decided to acknowledge hospitals, which are doing a really good job there. So we have designated centers for palliative care, they are audited and they receive some kind of certificate so just to make it very clear that we think this is as important as trying to do a good job early on in the disease so the two aspects are equally important.

And here also I think the quality of management of patients who are very ill and for who there is no cure possible is varying a lot from one place to another, there is a lot to do there in terms of providing very good guidelines, how to manage pain. We think it’s being done well, it’s not true. So that’s one of the priorities indeed, of ESMO.

Selma Schimmel:

What is the biggest change that you’re observing amongst European cancer patients as you reflect on growing advocacy over the last decade?

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

I have seen dramatic changes. Patients now come to you – a lot of patients, not all of them but a lot of patients come to you – and they have been looking around, they have been going on internet so they come with a series of questions, intelligent questions, and the dialogue that we have is a lot more interesting than it was twenty years ago. Now in Europe still, there is a difference from the US because I worked in the US for two years, and I think patients there are still very afraid to ask a second opinion, to do something that would be viewed by their oncologists to ask something really not nice, so they are very scared. Many of them don’t ask second opinion, and that’s something we need to change because cancer is such a difficult disease to treat so why wouldn’t you ask opinions of different experts? There is nothing wrong about that, and that is the culture we need to bring to Europe.

Selma Schimmel:

I’m very excited for the time I’ve spent with you. Truly I’ve had the pleasure of observing your work and seeing what you do over the last decade, and you’re a very inspirational woman and doctor. Professor-Doctor Martine Piccart, Professor of Oncology at the Free University of Brussels, the Director of Medicine at the Institute of Jules Bordet, and the incoming president of the European Society of Medical Oncology, ESMO. Thank you very much, Professor Piccart.

Martine Piccart, MD, PhD:

Thank you.

END OF VIDEO

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