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Senior Vice President of Oncology at Astellas Pharma

Tens of thousands of researchers, clinicians, and industry leaders descended upon Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), where breakthrough science and promising statistics in cancer care were on full display.

The Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, published this spring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Cancer Society and other public and private-sector organizations, showed that mortality rates for the most common cancers in men and women, including lung, colorectal, female breast, and prostate, have continued to decline. With the exciting progress we’re seeing in immunotherapies, personalized medicine and other therapeutic areas, there is every reason to believe that meaningful progress will continue well into the future.

However, defeating cancer is about more than breakthroughs or statistics alone. In the midst of all the scientific excitement, we must not lose sight of the fact that a disease like cancer, even if treatments are ultimately successful, fundamentally changes the life of the person battling it.

Those of us who have devoted our careers to changing lives need to define “life” in a holistic way, beyond the cellular level. This begins with supporting ways to reduce the impact of cancer treatments on patients. At Astellas, our team is deeply encouraged by what we’ve seen, for example, in the use of virtual reality to help people better manage the high degrees of stress that accompany treatment. What’s more, the continuing proliferation of online and community-based support networks is increasingly helping to ensure that people fighting this disease never have to feel alone.

Even beyond that, though, we need to focus our ideas and energies on how we can help cancer patients regain the lives that the disease stole from them. We’re learning more about the benefits of helping people process the emotions they experience during diagnosis and treatment, establish post-treatment plans, and rebuild their confidence regarding career, education, finances, and relationships.

As a company and industry, one of the most important things we can do to help achieve this holistic approach to cancer care is put ourselves squarely in the shoes of those fighting the disease. Not too long ago, this hit close to home when my father was diagnosed with head and neck cancer and my perspective of our healthcare system completely changed. Although I had been working in the industry for more than 20 years, I found myself confused and frustrated when I was put into the caregiver role. As I attempted to navigate the system and coordinate the right care for my father, I was met with both discrepancies in treatment options and constant misunderstandings.

My experience as a caregiver reinforced my view that we must ask patients and their caregivers about their lives with the disease and how it has affected them on a daily basis. Only then can we truly understand the impact of the disease and help patients live fully after their diagnoses.

In 2015, Astellas co-developed a prospective patient registry for individuals with castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC). The program, Treatment Registry for Outcomes in CRPC Patients (TRUMPET), is designed to follow 1,200 patients for up to six years and evaluate each patient’s clinical and quality of life experience with the disease. With more than 600 CRPC patients already enrolled, TRUMPET helps us understand how these men manage CRPC, navigate the healthcare system, and make treatment decisions with family and caregivers. Importantly, it helps us shape future research and allows our company to make use of real world evidence with patient outcomes and quality of life in mind.

I’m both encouraged and excited that cancer is losing ground every day to our scientific progress. The major breakthroughs and the continual incremental successes are critically important. But I also believe that we, combined with other leaders across healthcare, have the obligation, will and the resources to achieve the most important victories – helping individuals regain the bright outlook they had before the day they received that life-altering diagnosis.

As we celebrate all the exciting research and advances shared at ASCO this week, let’s also be sure to keep this bigger picture in mind.

This post was originally published on The Astellas Way.

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