Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Global License for Breast Surgery – my call to action!

speech in European Parliament cropped

Guest blogger Shirley Bianca, patient advocate and artist

I am a two-time breast cancer survivor. My diseased breast, which had a triple-negative collision tumour, was partially removed and immediately reconstructed with autologous tissue followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Exactly five years later a recurrence was diagnosed and the tumour was successfully removed again.

I am lucky to have received top-quality health care. However I discovered that many women with breast cancer, knowing they need surgery, are afraid of looking disfigured after their operation. This made me curious!

I found out that many breast centres have no specialists in breast surgery, and that many doctors who perform breast surgery may do just a handful cases a year. This made me furious!

I then learned that breast cancer surgery is not seen as a specialist competency, and surgeons do not require a specific licence to operate on breast cancer patients.

This lack of specialization results in too many patients with mutilations and unnecessary mastectomies.

This is heart breaking and unacceptable!


I am calling for the concept of a formal global license in specialist breast cancer surgery to be established by the World Health Organization, with oncological and reconstructive surgery integrated as a part of breast surgical training worldwide.

A single approved academic and surgical training programme should be offered worldwide for the licensing of breast cancer specialists. This would make it possible to set up a global Register of Specialists available online to breast cancer patients.

I would like to appeal to breast surgeons worldwide to support this call and help me establish a working group to set up a global initiative for Breast Surgery Licensing, with the goal of obtaining support from the WHO.

I count on you, because we affected women deserve the best treatment!

I strongly believe that only specialists in breast surgery should be allowed to operate on breast cancer patients.

We need more “Expert Eyes” (see below)

We need Global Licensing of Breast Surgery

If you support this call and feel you can help, please contact me at

The Expert Eye

the expert eye

The Expert Eye was painted by Shirley Bianca. This image has now been adopted as the symbol of her campaign for a Global Licensing in Specialized Breast Surgery.

Shirley has also used her art to reach out to other women diagnosed with breast cancer, many of whom deeply fear surgery to their breasts. “Message of Hope”, a series of 22 paintings, has been exhibited around the world – most recently in the European Parliament – and can be seen here.



Setting the record straight on cancer research


Cancer research is about testing evidence strenuously and objectively and can’t be judged by innuendo, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, writes Steve Buist.

First things first. I’m not a doctor, and I’m certainly not an oncologist, so do with that information what you wish.
I do have a degree in biological science, and I’ve written about cancer for the past 18 years, which has given me the chance to learn from some of the best researchers around.
Science is the process of gathering information through the ongoing application of critical thinking. Science is about evidence and testing that evidence strenuously and objectively.
I believe in evidence-based medicine. I also believe in evidence-based journalism.
Recently, the Hamilton Spectator published an opinion piece with the provocative headline, “War on cancer, like the one on drugs, has failed us.
The piece relied heavily on innuendo, conspiracy theories and pseudoscience rather than evidence. I think it was irresponsible, bordering on dangerous.
Among the piece’s most absurd statements: that there is no known cure for cancer, that we should stop looking for a cure for cancer, that Big Pharma is sitting on a cure for cancer (which seems contradictory to the first two points), that people don’t die of cancer, and that 75 per cent of doctors would refuse chemotherapy themselves.
Where to even begin?
Let’s tackle the last point first, which the author stated came from “one survey” he had seen.
It turns out that, upon closer inspection, the 75 per cent figure has been taken out of context  from a survey that asked doctors a very specific question about a very specific type of harsh chemotherapy for a very specific type of incurable cancer in its terminal stage. That’s irresponsible.
No cure for cancer? That will come as a surprise to the many men who have been treated successfully for testicular cancer, which has a 97 per cent survival rate, or prostate cancer, which has a 96 per cent cure rate (based on five year survival). For women with breast cancer, nearly 90 per cent of them can expect to survive five years or more.
Overall, two out of three cancer patients will now survive at least five years, the amount of time once considered the standard to be deemed a cure. That’s up significantly from about 50 per cent two decades ago.
Could medicine be doing better? Sure. The war on cancer has been disappointing, if a 100% survival is seen as the goal. Treating metastatic cancer remains a particular challenge.
But part of the problem is that we’ve given one label – cancer – to a disease with a couple of hundred different types. It’s not surprising that finding solutions to hundreds of different problems has proven to be a challenge.
There is no one cancer and what’s become clear is there’s no one magic bullet that eradicates it.
Big Pharma sitting on a cure until they figure out how to monetize it, “as has been rumoured for years,” according to the author?
That’s out there with the faked moon landing type of conspiracy theory.
I’ve been critical of the pharmaceutical industry but that’s a level of cynicism even I can’t comprehend. It’s also highly insulting to the people who have to treat cancer every day.
Do you think someone is sitting on a cure for heart disease because they’re trying to figure out how to monetize it? Osteoporosis? Dementia? Diabetes?
Why would anyone think cancer is different?
Besides, there’s already a simple and effective way to monetize these things – prove that they work and the world will beat a path to your door. Can you imagine what would happen to the stock price of a company that announces it can cure cancer?
Oddly enough, there is one point we do strongly agree on – not enough is done to promote the prevention of cancer.
More than half of all cancer cases are preventable. Changing our behaviours – no smoking, more exercise, better diets, less drinking, protection from the sun – could seriously reduce the cancer burden.
But it still means a significant chunk of cancer can’t be prevented.
People do die from cancer. Too many people. Treatments are still needed.
All the more reason why the war on cancer must continue.

Steve Buist is the Spectator’s investigations editor. He has written several multipart series on cancer and in 2014, he was named best cancer reporter in a competition sponsored by the European School of Oncology. You can read his winning entry here