Cancer treatments that extend life but also maintain quality of life – can we do it?
This year’s European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO)’s annual conference was another fantastic opportunity for the oncology community to come together and reflect on what we’ve collectively achieved in the last year and bring focus on what we’ve yet to address. These moments of scientific exchange and the chance encounters they bring, affirm my purpose here at Janssen, In particular, several sessions dedicated to new targeted therapies and immune-oncology, bringing new ways to treat cancer. Equally important with new and more specific ways to target cancer, ESMO dedicated a session to reducing therapy and sparing chemotherapy, with the aim to create more tolerable therapies. Overall, we are all united in our purpose that is simple but enduring: to extend and improve the quality of life for those living with cancer.
When it comes to prostate cancer – the most diagnosed cancer among men in Europep – we still have some way to go to realise this purpose. In recent years, patient survival has improved considerably, with a 7% reduction in deaths from prostate cancer in Europe between 2015 and 2020 alone. However, we also know that poor sexual and urinary long-term side effects linked to treatments can have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life.
So, while it’s great to see a positive trend in prostate cancer survival, does a hyperfocus on survival overlook other vital measurements of treatment success, such as how well someone can live their life?
Quality of life must become a central pillar in treatment outcomes
When patients are presented with their treatment choices, they can be overloaded with information. All while also needing to make quick life-impacting decisions. This swirl of information means patients may make decisions without fully understanding the options available to them or the long-term impact of treatments on their daily life and relationships.
It’s therefore crucial that physicians are also considering quality of life, alongside prolonged survival, as a primary treatment outcome measure.
For people living with prostate cancer, this means providing comprehensive education around the different treatments available, side effects and impact on physical and mental health (e.g. sexual health and intimacy, emotional and psychological support needs) and what can be done to overcome them.
With such accessible information and resources, along with providing holistic and tailored support, we can empower all patients to make an informed choice on a treatment that best suits their lifestyle and treatment goals.
The responsibility is two-fold: doctors must place a heightened emphasis on quality of life measurements as a factor in treatment decision making, while the pharmaceutical industry must continue innovating in this area to ensure emerging treatments address the unique needs of each patient.
A holistic treatment approach from start to end
The future of cancer treatment is evolving and is rapidly moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Personalised cancer care, tailored to patients’ unique genetic composition and environment has the potential to not only eliminate cancer, but to change what a cancer diagnosis means.
By harnessing personalised medicine and recalibrating treatments to be more holistic, instead of focusing solely on clinical outcomes, we can optimise our ability to deliver the right treatment, to the right patient, at the right time – focusing instead on quality of life, rather than just quantity of life.
To do this properly, we first need to understand which quality of life measurements are important for patients – what’s important to one person may be less so to another. Collaboration between patients and industry will be a prerequisite to successfully capturing these nuances. Some of these needs were captured in our recent In My Shoes campaign, which highlighted how we can deliver better care for people living with prostate, bladder and lung cancer. It's our duty to ensure these insights are captured in everything we do from clinical trial endpoints, to policy, treatment regimens and beyond.
Working together towards a common goal
At Janssen, we recognise that change like this can only come through collaboration. Congresses, like ESMO, showcase disruptive scientific innovations and facilitate an open dialogue between patients and industry, providing an unparalleled opportunity to exchange knowledge, which will be essential to understanding and incorporating quality of life measurements into treatment approaches. Only then, can we truly deliver on our promise to extend and improve the quality of life for patients living with oncologic diseases such as prostate, bladder and lung cancer.
 ESMO. Death rates from prostate cancer predicted to decline overall in eu but rise in poland [annals of oncology press release]. [Online]. Available at: https://www.esmo.org/newsroom/press-releases/death-rates-from-prostate-cancer-predicted-to-decline-overall-in-eu-but-rise-in-poland. [Last accessed: Sept 2022].
 Houédé N, et al. Impact on quality of life 3 years after diagnosis of prostate cancer patients below 75 at diagnosis: an observational case-control study. BMC cancer. 2020;20(1):1-2.
 NHS. Prostate cancer treatment. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/prostate-cancer/treatment/. [Last accessed Sept 2022].
 Mazariego CG, et al. Fifteen year quality of life outcomes in men with localised prostate cancer: population based Australian prospective study. BMJ. 2020;371:m3503. Published 2020 Oct 7. doi:10.1136/bmj.m3503