Over 15,000 people develop cancer in Slovenia each year and 6000 die. Cancer is the second commonest disease to cause death in Slovenia and closely follows cardiovascular diseases. The number of oncology patients increases by two percent each year.

The online panel discussion held by STAklub on 1 July 2020 was joined by Dr. Tina Bregant, State Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Jure Mikolič from the Department of Medicinal Products at the Health Insurance Institute of Slovenia, Prof. Dr. Tanja Čufer from the Oncology Department at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, and Iva Dimic, Member of the National Assembly and member of the National Assembly Healthcare Committee.

The central topic of discussion with the experts were the present and future of treatment of patients with cancer, focusing particularly on early diagnostics and the importance of access to new treatments and medicines.

According to oncologist Dr. Tanja Čufer the good side of access to new oncology medicines in Slovenia is the fact that all medicines become accessible sooner or later. The problem is the excessive time it takes from registration to the medicine actually being made available to Slovenian patients. On average this takes 400 days. Dr. Čufer noted that new medicines could be reached faster through clinical studies, which is a procedure western European countries practice to great effects in managing cancer.

Among the problems impacting treatment of oncology patients in Slovenia Dr. Čufer also mentioned the excessive time from the first symptoms to diagnosis and emphasised the importance of early discovery. The sooner cancer is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment can be. Cancer survival rates are greatly increased by early diagnostics and quality of treatment. A case in point is lung cancer which is treatable in 70% of all cases, provided it is discovered in time and the patient receives appropriate treatment.

Cancer is a very demanding disease so rapid and effective introduction of new medicines or treatment methods require extensively trained personnel, added Dr. Čufer. She emphasised the benefits brought by clinical registries that provide patients with access to data on treatment quality and outcomes in separate institutions that help in the selection of a physician. With that she also noted on the importance and usefulness of the ESMO Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale that was developed by the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). The scale evaluates how much a new medication extends the life of a patient in comparison to another medication and how it impacts their quality of life. Higher scored treatments enable a longer, higher quality life which is the wish of every patient faced with a demanding diagnosis of cancer.

State Secretary Tina Bregant emphasised the importance of primary prevention for the reduction of cancer incidence and early discovery of the disease with the help of screening programs. The Ministry is aware of the need for organisational and personnel improvements at all three levels of healthcare. She emphasized that the fight against cancer is a priority of healthcare politics. Ms. Bregant noted on the issue of assuring additional resources for financing oncology, especially in the time of the COVID-19 epidemic. She mentioned that the Ministry did earmark additional funding for upgrading the cancer registry with clinical data. New sources of financing for the treatment of cancer patients are to receive higher priority. Ms. Čufar added that the share

of financing will need to be increased in the future because cancer causes 25% of all deaths in Europe. Cancer rates will continue to increase and Slovenia will need to focus its efforts on knowledge and energy to manage cancer.

Jure Mikolič confirmed Ms. Čufer’s assessment that Slovenia has quite good access to new oncology medications. He did note on the problem of the time line of classifying new medicines on a list. The drafting of an application requires a lot of adjustments on the part of the insurance institute and the medicinal product manufacturers. Another matter to coordinate is negotiations on price.

Iva Dimic, member of the National Assembly and member of the National Assembly Healthcare Committee shared her positive experience with cancer treatment. Her cancer diagnosis was not happy news for her. But she is very satisfied with the oncology healthcare system and exceptional doctors and surgeons who not only treated her disease, but also gave her hope for her future. In her words politicians should focus more on cancer related issues. She also noted that she initiated the founding of the subcommittee for the monitoring of cancer with the Healthcare Committee.

The live stream of the conference was watched on all platforms throughout its duration by about 400 viewers. Taking into account all the platforms where the discussion was published, the recording was viewed 5300 times so far and the view count will increase in the coming days.

The entire discussion can be viewed at: https://livestream.com/accounts/564247/events/7618799/videos/208152408/player