Europe’s cancer care breakthrough

I have always loved Europe–and not just because of my Italian heritage. I suppose one could argue against their social net… But I know I would love to have six weeks of paid vacation, family leave time for both parents, and a medical system that may not be as good as ours for catastrophic care, but is pretty equivalent for the everyday things. Not to mention the fact that their system isn’t overburdened with obesity and diabetes like ours is. So they must be doing something right.

But today I want to discuss cancer care in Europe. Unfortunately, in the U.S., most mainstream oncologists have no interest in–or tolerance for–natural cancer therapies. This means many patients wind up having to choose between natural “alternatives” and traditional cancer treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, etc.). And this is the reason why I always recommend that my patients with cancer seek care in Europe if they can.

European doctors, hospitals, and clinics are very progressive in their emphasis on combining conventional therapies with alternative therapies. And this approach often results in much better success rates.

But now they’re going even further.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is adding quality of life to the factors it takes into consideration before approving new cancer drugs and other therapies.

Finally! Someone is thinking about how these treatments really affect cancer patients on a day-to-day basis. And evaluating whether the side effects–like fatigue, nausea, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, etc.–really outweigh the potential benefits.

For instance, some new drugs only lead to a small improvement in overall survival. Yet they cause massive disruption in a patient’s quality of life. On the flip side, as new therapies become more targeted, some may actually cause fewer toxic side effects. And now, in Europe, these issues will play a key role in whether the treatment gains approval.

This is a truly revolutionary approach. Because in our country, all that matters is that the cancer is eradicated–regardless of whether the treatment killed the patient in the process. (And this happens a lot more than you might think.)

So many patients refuse to undergo therapies that might save their lives because they’re afraid of the side effects and what will happen to their quality of life. If that aspect was factored into the therapy’s approval from the beginning, it would reassure a lot of people. And probably save many lives in the process.

In any case, I hope this new European model will make its way across the Atlantic. Starting to look at how our patients feel would be a huge step forward in cancer care in this country. After all, the first rule of medicine is “do no harm.”