Zsuzsanna Devecseri, MD is the Head of Global Oncology Medical Affairs at Sanofi Genzyme. She is committed to bring innovative treatment to oncology patients worldwide and a strong advocate of screening and disease prevention. She received her medical degree from Semmelweis University in Hungary and also received an MBA from Corvinus University of Budapest, and currently lives in Boston, US.
Like many people who enter a medical profession, I feel driven to help patients living with cancer. Because the search for a cure has always represented a critical challenge for the oncology community, I come to work motivated to move us closer to this goal and am hopeful that we will find one in my lifetime.
However, this past year, as the pandemic spelled out new and life-threatening consequences for cancer research, early detection and patients needing ongoing treatment, there were moments when it was harder to maintain a positive outlook. Rather than get discouraged, I tried to focus on steps I could take to make a difference each day. At work, this included finding new opportunities to promote the importance of prevention and working with physicians to continue refining our understanding of the unique needs of different patient populations. On a personal level, it included scheduling my own cancer screenings and reaching out to loved ones—like my grandma—to do the same.
The theme of World Cancer Day, “I Am and I Will,” is a reminder that each person can help reduce the growing burden of a complex disease that impacts millions of people worldwide. More than ever, our global oncology community depends on these personal commitments to advance solutions, raise awareness and education about cancer and work with governments and health systems to act now.
One area where solutions are urgently needed is addressing gaps in care for patients with difficult-to-treat malignancies like breast and lung cancers—especially in older patients. Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, and more than 50% of patients with non-small cell lung cancer are 65 or older. Approximately 30% of patients living with metastatic breast cancer are over 70 years old. Still, despite the vulnerable nature of this population, they don’t always receive the best care possible.
Even with breakthroughs in treating both cancer types, early diagnoses are still low due to a lack of screening, causing significant challenges when the cancer is diagnosed at advanced stages., As COVID-19 exacerbates these delays, the consequences could have a devastating impact on patients’ care and survival.
At Sanofi, we recognise how important it is to have a united platform to promote individual steps toward collective action. We launched When Cancer Grows Old™ on World Cancer Day one year ago, beginning a multiyear initiative to inspire advocates, healthcare providers and others to identify the solutions needed to support ageing people living with cancer, and their families, in new ways.
Through research and conversations with leaders in the oncology community, we understand that cancer takes a tougher physical and mental toll on older people, as comorbidities require a more holistic and integrated approach to care. As a result, we’re focusing our efforts on where we feel we can make the most impact: the patient journey.
As part of Sanofi’s commitment to supporting people with cancer, we work alongside partners in government, industry, advocacy and academia to make an impact on cancer communities around the world. In 2020, we launched a new Contributions Initiative for projects that address the unique gaps faced by older people living with cancer and their families.
In 2021, we are providing even more funding for up to 40 local organisations, nonprofit medical institutions and healthcare facilities, which are working to address gaps in the treatment journey and give older patients with cancer the best possible chance to grow old. This commitment honors the World Health Organization’s designation of 2021 as the Year of Health and Care Workers and the United Nations proclamation of 2021-2030 as the Decade of Healthy Ageing.
World Cancer Day reminds us how far we’ve come, yet how much work remains. While we launched When Cancer Grows Old™ before COVID-19, the pandemic quickly amplified gaps and barriers along the care continuum, highlighted how vulnerable patients desperately need support, and showed how much is at stake as health systems stretch even further beyond their limits. Learn more about the UICC’s worldwide efforts to adapt and innovate in cancer care through COVID-19 and beyond here.
The insights we’re gathering now allow us to adapt care to improve diagnoses and ensure that all patients, regardless of age, can access adequate care and the best possible treatments.
My commitment is stronger than ever, and I feel proud to work alongside a community of individuals who are passionate about lifting the burden of cancer worldwide.
 An Update on Cancer Deaths in the United States. (2020, May 29). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/update-on-cancer-deaths/index.htm
 Makrantonakis PD, Galani E, Harper PG. Non-small cell lung cancer in the elderly. Oncologist. 2004;9(5):556-60. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.9-5-556. PMID: 15477641.
 MacDonald, T., Krishnan, V., Wilson, W.A. (020). Palliative care access in the elderly metastatic breast cancer population: obstacles and opportunities. Translational Cancer Research, S110-S115. http://tcr.amegroups.com/article/view/31071/html
 Berghmans T., Lievens Y., Aapro M., et al. European Cancer Organisation Essential Requirements for Quality Cancer Care (ERQCC): Lung cancer. Lung Cancer. 2020; 150: 221.239. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lungcan.2020.08.017
 Aapro M. Mammography Screening and Treatment of Breast Cancer in the Elderly. Breast Care (Basel). 2008;3(3):177-182. doi:10.1159/000137627
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