From screening to Breast Units: this is how women defend their rights

From screening to Breast Units: this is how women defend their rights


Few perhaps know it, but if today we can count on a universal screening program for breast cancer, if Multidisciplinary Senology Centers exist, i.e. Breast Units specialized in the treatment of breast cancer, and if law 104 was also extended to caregivers, it is especially due to women. To the women who have banded together to represent and defend the rights of other women. And there is no doubt that, in the history of women’s health advocacy, Europe Woman went to school. Exactly 30 years have passed since it was founded and all these goals – together with many others – will be celebrated on the evening of March 22nd in Milan: an important birthday that above all aims to set future objectives.

“The road to rights is still long and there is a lot to do for the first cancer that affects women – he says Rosanna D’Antona, President of Europa Donna Italia –. Starting from prevention: today women’s participation in national mammography screening is around 50%, a figure we cannot be satisfied with, especially in light of the scientific evidence that confirms the life-saving role of early diagnosis: the disease intercepted in its initial stages It has very high survival rates of up to 98%. This is why it is essential, as well as urgent, to rethink screening methods to make it more accessible, so that all women adhere to it.”

History and goals

It was the early ’90s when Umberto Veronesi had the idea of ​​a European organisation, made up and managed by women, which would bring together the entire female population in the fight against breast cancer: “After having noted the influence that women involved in the advocacy against breast cancer in the USA, had understood that the time had come for a great mobilization of women to convince not only national governments and their health authorities, but also the Strasbourg Parliament, that the problem of breast cancer was tackled with radical measures – he says Alberto CostaCEO of the European School of Oncology, who contributed to founding the movement – Europa Donna was born on these premises and has firmly established itself as an organization in defense of women against breast cancer”.

From 1994 to today, Europa Donna’s campaigns have given women a voice, managing to profoundly change the history of the disease and the level of treatment: from the commitment to raising awareness of metastatic breast cancer to the allocation of a fund to finance genomic tests , which can help personalize care, up to the establishment of Europa Donna Parlament, a transversal alliance of twenty-seven senators and deputies from different political parties, committed to listening to women’s needs and translating them into rules.

The “fight” for Breast Units

But, as D’Antona reminds us, we cannot be satisfied. Take, for example, Breast Units. “Their creation has been at the center of our commitment over the last fifteen years – he says Corrado Tinterri, Coordinator of the Scientific Technical Committee of Europa Donna Italia and Director of the Breast Unit of Humanitas Milan – Established in 2014, following awareness and mobilization campaigns also by Europa Donna, the Breast Units are the result of a special alliance between associations of patients, institutions and the scientific world and have effectively changed the paradigm of care for patients with breast cancer. Suffice it to say that in 2010 only 12% of women were treated in specialized centers, while the 2022 data confirm that today we are at 80%. A very important fact if we consider that the probability of healing increases by 18% when you are treated within a Breast Unit”. The Ministry of Health has issued specific guidelines, but in some regions the process has not yet been completed and in others not even started: “A gap to be filled as soon as possible – continues D’Antona – for this reason in Europa Donna, with the our network of 190 patient associations throughout Italy, we have recently activated a process to monitor the activities of the Breast Units and we will put pressure on the institutions to implement them where necessary and improve their multidisciplinarity, ensuring patients receive adequate psycho-oncological support by dedicated specialists.”

Advocacy for metastatic patients

After screening and Breast Units, the third pillar of the future agenda is the commitment to the rights of chronic patients: “Until a few years ago – underlines D’Antona – very little was known about women living with breast cancer metastatic breast, around 45,000 in Italy, and it is thanks to the commitment of Europa Donna Italia and its associative network that they have emerged from the shadow of silence by telling themselves and expressing their requests and needs. A priority on Europa Donna’s agenda is to give voice to the requests of these patients at institutional tables, to ensure that their specific needs are answered: from the construction of specific paths in the Breast Units, to facilitated access to innovative drugs, to creation of an accessible database reporting all the clinical studies present in Italy, validated by the Ministry of Health with the participation of the oncology IRCCS. Because participating in a clinical study can extend life expectancy and positively change its quality.”

Commitment to humanity in care: the “Laudato Medico” award and scholarships

During the evening of March 22nd, the “Laudato Medico UV” awards will also be awarded to the specialists who, according to the patients, stood out for their empathy and humanity: “We did our best to interpret the mission that Professor Veronesi assigned to us thirty years ago, and in his honor in 2019 we established an award given every year to four specialists: surgeon, radiologist, oncologist and radiotherapist – concludes D’Antona – For us it represents the opportunity to remind the scientific community and the institutions that , if we want effective healthcare processes, we cannot neglect the doctor-patient relationship.” This is also why Europa Donna has decided to provide scholarships in 2024 for the specific training of 12 doctors on the doctor-patient relationship.


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