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Dear colleagues,

At the end of my first year as ECCO president and just before Christmas and the New Year, I would have loved to convey to you only positive messages… but, unfortunately, this is not the case. I feel obliged in sharing with you my strong worries for the future of a unified, constructive and dynamic multidisciplinary oncology platform in Europe, which is critically needed if we want to continue to improve the care of cancer patients as well as cancer research. This platform is the ECCO organisation, created by visionary oncologists many years ago.

At the key moment that the ECCO board is working hard at its strategic “renewal”, accelerating progress in multidisciplinary cancer care while diversifying its oncopolicy agenda and becoming more sensitive to its members’ needs, ESMO announced that, as of 2017, it will no longer collaborate with ECCO for its biennial multidisciplinary congress, and instead organise its annual meeting, while inviting the other societies “to join” the ESMO meeting every other year.
The letter informing ESMO members about this board decision mentions the continued interest from ESMO to participate in oncopolicy initiatives within ECCO. 
What it does not explain is that this decision impacts the image of the oncology community towards the public, significantly weakening our credibility towards the policy makers at EU and national level, and, not least, threatening the financial basis of ECCO and therefore also its survival. As you can imagine, this is particularly worrisome in the context of possible shrinking budgets for health care and medical research.

So far, four societies which, together with ESMO, founded ECCO many years ago (namely ESTRO, ESSO, EONS, and SIOPE) have discussed with their respective boards about the consequences of ESMO’s unilateral decision and concluded that the alternative model proposed by ESMO sets back the cohesion and strength of European oncology, and as such could severely harm the entire oncology community.

Personally as a medical oncologist married to a surgical oncologist and mother of a nuclear medicine cancer specialist, I am convinced that Europe needs a platform wherein all healthcare professionals and researchers involved in cancer are represented on an equal footing.

As the immediate past president of ESMO, I feel sad that my professional organisation which has so nicely developed over the last few years in terms of services provided to its increasing membership is now prioritising its independent growth and running the risk of becoming more isolated from the other professionals active in the cancer fields. This does not make sense against the background where it is increasingly acknowledged that cancer must be treated in a multidisciplinary context.

As chair of the Breast International Group (BIG) for 15 years, I have learned that the dialogue and the collaboration between many diverse organisations is an everyday challenge and is certainly more difficult than working within a single entity… but this collaboration is,  at the end of the day, what our patients deserve and need.

In 2005, ESMO had already made a similar decision and resigned from ECCO (then FECS), but two years later the leadership in charge at the time decided with dispassionate wisdom to reverse that decision.  I will work hard at trying to achieve the same in 2015 and hope to be able to count on your support in this regard, as I already have from many ECCO members societies and also from our Patient Advisory Committee.  I call on you to let ESMO members know how you feel about this decision and help them understand that ESMO’s action is wrong and not in anyone’s interest, least of all patients who need us, more than ever before, to join forces and work together in a cohesive way to improve cancer outcomes.

On a more optimistic note, I can promise you that the 2015 European Cancer Conference in Vienna will be of exceptional quality, as far as providing cutting edge information on innovative diagnostics and therapies, great educational sessions with a multidisciplinary stamp, platforms of exchange with basic scientists and molecular imaging specialists, and forums of discussion of important oncopolicy issues in which we will also try to better understand our patients’ needs, voiced by the patient organisations closely working with us.

I wish you all the best for 2015.


Martine Piccart, ECCO President

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