Research Behind New Europe-Wide Cancer Campaign 'All Wrong'

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Cancer Campaign

A leading cancer expert based at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has expressed doubts about a new cancer campaign, Cancer United, which is being launched in Brussels.

Michel Coleman, Professor of Epidemiology and Vital Statistics at the School, has spoken of his concerns about the campaign, which aims to unite doctors, nurses and patients in pushing for equal access to cancer care across the EU but which, he asserts, is based on flawed research.

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This research, published by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, concluded that the more cancer drugs on the market in a given country, and the faster they are licensed, the higher the cancer survival rate in that country. Professor Coleman's critique, which appears in Cancer World, the magazine of the independent European School of Oncology, calls the research 'extremely simplistic' and seriously flawed, and its conclusions 'all wrong'. It relates the availability of cancer drugs in 38 countries in Europe in 2000 with the 5-year survival of patients diagnosed in those countries during 1990-94, some 6-10 years earlier. For 12 of the 38 countries involved, no such survival data actually exist.

Professor Coleman adds: 'For most cancers, higher survival results from earlier diagnosis and a combination of expert surgery and/or radiotherapy, as well as from the use of cancer drugs'.

Questions over the extent of the involvement in Cancer United of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-LaRoche, which makes Herceptin and Avastin, have also been raised in some quarters. Professor Coleman says: 'Roche funded the Karolinska report and later offered to fund an academic review of it for use at the launch of CancerUnited, which also receives Roche support. The CancerUnited secretariat is at Roche's Brussels PR company and Roche's International Affairs Officer is on the Executive Board of CancerUnited. Without impugning the motives or commitment of any of the persons involved, one may reasonably question the appropriateness of that degree of involvement of a pharmaceutical company - with an obvious and perfectly legitimate vested interest in cancer drug sales - in a campaign aimed at influencing government policies on cancer care.'

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