My experience at an Int’l Advanced Breast Cancer Conference

advanced breast cancer conference

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the 5th ESO-ESMO International Consensus Conference for Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC5) in Lisbon, Portugal in November. For those who don’t know, it’s an international conference where medical professionals share the latest research findings on metastatic breast cancer. On the last day of the conference, there is a consensus session where the panel (comprised of representatives from all over the world) discuss research findings and then vote on the standard of care for managing metastatic breast cancer.

It’s fascinating for me to see how the medical community is keeping up to date with research and using it to make clinical decisions.

Here are some key ABC5 successes to note:

Media Support

Thanks to the conference’s strong media presence, raising awareness about the needs and challenges faced by this traditionally underserved and forgotten group of patients is now a reality. Here are some press releases highlighting some of the interesting presentations on topics like better access to treatment and pain management.

Geographic Representation

There were over 1,000 registrants at the conference and they represented over 75 countries from all around the world! Having all of these different perspectives and experiences reminds me of how lucky we are in Canada to have government-funded health care. I spoke with some patient advocates from countries where nearly all patients were diagnosed with de novo metastatic breast cancer because breast health screening is paid by patients out of pocket.

Patient Involvement

Having patients is a key tenant for ABC conferences so there is a strong patient presence each year. Travel subsidies are provided to encourage patients from all over the world to attend the conference.

The keynote session was an MBC patient from England, Claire Myerson. Her speech was titled “A good doctor treats the disease; a great doctor treats the patient with the disease”.

She reminded the health professionals that we are not our cancer diagnosis. We lead full lives, which must be considered when choosing treatment regimes.

I really enjoyed meeting up with strong patient advocates from well-known North American non-profit organizations: MJ DeCoteau (Rethink Breast Cancer), Shawna Rich-Ginsberg (Rethink Breast Cancer), Jenn Gordon (Canadian Breast Cancer Network) and Shirley Mertz (Metastatic Breast Cancer Network).

The Standouts

“Complementary medicine: what helps and what doesn’t” by Maria João Cardoso.

She spoke about various complementary medicine techniques that are proven to help patients cope with side effects, such as yoga, meditation, exercise. She also spoke about complementary medicines that can interfere with treatment regimes. These tend to be diet-related, such as green tea, citrus fruits, curcumin, etc. Maria highlighted the importance of open and honest communication between patients and oncologists so that complementary therapies do not interfere with treatment.

“Doctors need to believe in miracles too: ensuring you understand therapeutic aims of treatment recommendations” by Lesley Fallowfield, UK.

Her presentation focused on doctor-patient relationships and how doctors, particularly if they’ve known the patient for a long time, can avoid honest discussions about end of life. Doctors struggle with the loss of their patients. Sometimes they continue offering treatment options hoping to extend their patient’s life, even if it’s not in the best interest of the patient.

“Optimal endpoints for ABC clinical trials: can we aim for more?” by Nadia Harbeck, DE

She discussed commonly used endpoints for clinical trial endpoints and their relevance to patients, such as time to progression, time to treatment failure, overall response rate, progression-free survival, overall survival.

The ”Latest news” sessions for Triple-negative ABC, Luminal ABC, and HER2+ ABC included interesting presentations on new treatment targets, drugs, etc. for each of the subtypes. There are so many clinical trials underway! Very exciting to see new options may be available in the near future.

The Consensus Session on the last day of the conference was interesting because we got to see the doctors debate the value of certain drugs, the sequence of drugs offered to patients and what the standard of care should be. The management guidelines will be posted here once they are updated with the panel approved revisions.

I encourage other MBC patients to participate in future ABC conferences. It’s a great opportunity!

To check out other conference recaps, click here.


Nathalie Baudais

Nathalie Baudais was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2008, at the age of 29, and with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in 2011. Her treatments have included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy regimens and radiation therapies. She has the BRCA1 genetic mutation.

Nathalie is married and has one child. She works full-time and is involved with a variety of breast cancer charities: She is a board member for Saskatchewan Breast Cancer Connect; peer facilitator for Breast Cancer Support Saskatoon; organizing committee member for Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day – Saskatoon. Nathalie is excited to be a part of the MBC advisory board and to help improve the lives of those living with MBC.

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