Thierry Philip: “If under-20s stopped smoking, cancer mortality would be halved in 50 years”

During his long interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Professor Thierry Philip, president of the Organization of European Cancer Institutes, oncologist and head of Curie Institute in Paris, denounces inequalities between countries in cancer detection and treatment, and calls for more resources with the aim of reducing the gap in accessing the health care system.

Concerning cancer, response quality is not the same. For instance, in Eastern countries, quality is different due to lack of economic resources, drugs or to organizational problems. “We need to focus on those countries in which quality doesn’t reach a sufficient level. We deem that for every five million people, a comprehensive cancer center and a network of centers should be available for patients so that they can receive the same kind of treatment, regardless of the facility they address to”.

The first inequality we face concerns the prevention field: “40 percent of tumors can be prevented fighting the use of tobacco, alcohol, and poor diet. The second inequality we face is in accessing screenings, specifically breast, colon, or uterine ones. The third inequality is in early diagnosis: diagnosis should be given as early as possible, since small cancers can be treated and have better recovery chances. A further inequality is treatment: looking at the map of Europe from a radiotherapy units distribution point of view, it is clear enough that some areas are not sufficiently equipped and some of them can’t offer quick access to radiotherapy and treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy or immunotherapy.”

Moreover, Professor Philip eplains: “If every young person under the age of 20 stopped smoking tomorrow, cancer mortality would be halved in 50 years. Tobacco is the biggest problem. We managed to improve the situation since the 1950s: the number of lung cancers is declining among men in most of Europe, but it is increasing in women because of an increasing use of tobacco among this category. Although screenings with CT scans are available, cancer early detection and prompt surgery result in probably 50% recovery cases. Most people affected with lung cancers arrive at the hospital with metastasis, and survival rate is 5%. Thanks to immunotherapy, this rate has increased to 23%, but about 80% of affected people still die. We need much more effort in combining radiotherapy and immunotherapy, hoping to reach a rate of 25% or 30%. However, stopping smoking is still the best way to reduce lung cancers.”