Experts adopt new guidelines to improve treatment for Kiwis with advanced breast cancer
A new set of clinical guidelines for the treatment of advanced breast cancer (ABC) has launched today, Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day (13 October).
The 2nd New Zealand Consensus Guidelines for Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC-NZ2) were developed by the Breast Special Interest Group (Breast SIG) – doctors and nurses who specialise in the treatment of breast cancer – with the assistance of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ).
“We’ve created these guidelines to be a framework for everyone involved in the treatment of ABC, including clinicians, patients and government health organisations,” says Dr Marion Kuper-Hommel, consultant medical oncologist at Te Whatu Ora Waikato, chair of the Breast SIG and lead clinician behind ABC-NZ2.
“They provide an evidence-based summary of what New Zealand clinicians consider is best practice to manage ABC, which is a complex disease requiring specialist care, if we are to help our patients live as long as possible with the best quality of life. Our mission is to get these guidelines used by all stakeholders involved with the management of ABC.”
A report on ABC in Aotearoa New Zealand published by BCFNZ in 2018, “I’m Still Here”, found that some clinicians had little awareness of international ABC guidelines and did not find them relevant for the NZ landscape. A priority recommendation in the report was to produce NZ-specific guidelines urgently.
“Our research showed Kiwi women were dying of ABC twice as fast as people in comparable countries, they were receiving less treatment than those overseas and many of them felt like the health system had turned its back on them,” says Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of BCFNZ.
“These updated guidelines will help doctors to keep up-to-date with the most effective ways to care for Kiwis with ABC. They’ll also help patients navigate treatment conversations with their specialists. We want all patients to receive the same high level of care and the best treatment that could extend or improve their lives, no matter where they live,” Rayner adds.
Breast cancer is the leading cause of death for NZ women under 65. ABC, also called metastatic, secondary or stage four breast cancer, is where breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Although it isn’t possible to cure ABC, innovative new treatments can help women live for many years after their diagnosis. Around 400 Kiwis are diagnosed with ABC every year.
Treatment for early breast cancer (before it has metastasised beyond the breast) in NZ is largely in accordance with Ministry of Health standards and guidelines, but the treatment pathway for ABC can be much more varied.
The Breast SIG, with the help of BCFNZ, created the first ABC–NZ guidelines in late 2020 by adapting international guidelines and achieving consensus between 20 breast cancer experts from around the country including medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, breast surgeons, ABC clinical nurse specialists, GPs, breast physicians, palliative care physicians and patient advocates. The challenges of managing patient care through the Covid-19 pandemic meant the new guidelines were not top-of-mind for many, but they are expected to play an important role moving forward.
Read the ABC Guidelines here.
The Breast SIG was established in 2007 with the aims of improving the care of breast cancer patients throughout NZ and providing advice to government and non-governmental bodies about innovative treatments and technologies.