Professor Giuseppe Curigliano has fought passionately against breast cancer (BC) and metastatic breast cancer (MBC) for 15 years. He vividly recalls when he diagnosed his first patient with MBC, a young woman who was just 28 – exactly as old as he was then. Ever since, Professor Curigliano has dedicated himself to tackling these diseases, giving hope to women across generations.
Breast Cancer: Shifting the Focus to the Advanced Stages
The great progress of early detection breast cancer programs has marked the general perception of breast cancer. However, the advanced stages of the diseases remain a huge challenge – both medically and socially.
Professor Giuseppe Curigliano chairs the Division of Early Drug Development and the Early Clinical Trial Division at the European Institute of Oncology, Milan. He has been working with BC patients for 15 years and been involved in hundreds of clinical trials, including for MBC.
Thanks to people like him, there have been remarkable successes in the fight against BC in recent years. And while the fight is not yet over, significant advances in understanding and treating BC give hope to women affected with MBC. As Professor Curigliano sees it, the most important development in cancer research has been disease segmentation, that is, the characterization of different subtypes of BC and MBC. "The concept of ‘one size fits all’ therapy is shifting toward treating every patient according to the biological features of their specific disease," he explains. "We know that breast cancer is not a single disease. Sequencing a tumor’s DNA is essential to obtain information about potential care pathways related to that specific DNA."
Professor Curigliano was only 28 years old when he met his first MBC patient, a young woman who was also 28 at the time. "It was very complex and emotional to manage," he recalls. "There was no good way to communicate the reality of the condition and the probability that she would die from this incurable disease. Answering questions such as ‘how much time do I have?’ or hearing statements like ‘I have children and I want to understand my life expectancy,’ never makes for an easy conversation."
Certain factors make handling the diagnosis of MBC uniquely difficult, for both patients and physicians. These include a lack of awareness of and attention to MBC. "There is no awareness in the media about the MBC patients’ daily reality," says Curigliano. "Although we speak all the time about early-stage BC patients, including about screening and early diagnosis, women with MBC can feel alone. We live in a world in which beauty, health and many other values are more important than giving attention to MBC patients who will die. It undervalues their fight."
For these reasons, Professor Curigliano stresses that more needs to be done to increase MBC awareness and to expand conversations about BC to include MBC. He feels this can best be done through a joint effort: "Our common goal in the next few years should be to raise awareness about this chronic condition and support women in elevating their voices, giving them and their stories visibility in the media and space to be heard."