Getting Together: Conference Changes Perceptions and Lives

The world’s only metastatic breast-cancer conference brings thousands together in Lisbon to improve MBC management globally by sharing knowledge and experience.


In 2003, a Portuguese doctor named Fatima Cardoso asked a simple question of Dr. Alberto Costa at the European School of Oncology: What are you doing to advance the study and treatment of metastatic breast cancer? “I had to admit we were doing nothing,” recalls Dr. Costa. “Back then, patients with MBC were seen as a lost cause.” Working together, the European physicians launched a task force on MBC issues, started study groups and found financial sponsors.  In 2011, Dr. Larry Norton from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Dr. Eric P. Winer from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City joined Dr. Cardoso and Dr. Costa to co-chair the world’s first conference focused solely on MBC, held in Lisbon. Together with pharmaceutical advances that have improved disease management, the Advanced Breast Cancer International Consensus Conference – which aims primarily to develop global guidelines for the management of MBC patients - “has played a major role in changing the perception of advanced breast cancer,” says Dr. Costa. “MBC patients are no longer seen as a lost cause.”
Since 2011, the ABC conference has been held three times, most recently drawing more than 1,300 medical professionals, academics and members of the media to Lisbon in November 2015. Importantly, some 10% of the attendees were also patient advocates – people with MBC who have committed to keeping fellow patients informed about the current state of research and treatment. “We made the political decision to pay the participation and travel costs of advocates,” says Dr. Costa, to ensure the findings developed and presented at the conference reach as many patients as possible. Along with technical presentations on topics such as “Resistance to Anti-HER-2 Agents: What’s New,” the conference featured panel discussions on personal challenges such as the “Unmet Psychosocial and Quality of Life Needs of Patients Living with MBC,” and a screening of a video called “I am Anna,” the story of a young mother, wife and architect living with MBC. “The magic of the conference is that it brings together so many MBC experts from so many different walks of life,” says Dr. Costa. “It’s a catalyzer, a trigger of knowledge.”

That catalyzing effect is also clear in the conference’s concrete outcomes. In November, for instance, preliminary results of a first-in-its-kind report on the Global Status of Metatstatic Breast Cancer were presented. Studying MBC trends and topics over the decade from 2005-2015, the report revealed both areas of improvement and substantial remaining gaps in care. Each iteration of the conference also produces an updated set of treatment guidelines for MBC practitioners, complied from multiple medical specialties and geographies. The geographical expertise is particularly important, because MBC expertise remains largely centered in Western countries. Thanks to the conference, however, - which in November for the first time included representatives from emerging markets including Lebanon, China and India - “knowledge is spreading,” says Dr. Costa with pride.

Further Links:
ABC Conference:
European School of Oncology: