The Advisory Board on Cancer in Pregnancy was founded in 2012 by gynecological oncologist Christianne Lok. This unique initiative is awarded with the Patient Impact Award 2020 at the NKI/AVL in the Netherlands. The board functions as a reference network for physicians in the Netherlands in order to reach the best treatment decisions for pregnant cancer patients.
‘A second opinion from 28 specialists at once’
The Advisory Board on Cancer in Pregnancy, which began as a core team at the NKI/AVL in the Netherlands, now consists of 28 experts from academic centers all over the country, with various fields of expertise. These specializations are all necessary in order to reach the best treatment decisions in situations that are always unique and complex. “Doctors and patients can count on a second opinion from 28 specialists at once,” Christianne Lok says.
Cancer during pregnancy is very rare
Cancer during pregnancy fortunately does not occur often: only one in 1000-2000 women will experience cancer during pregnancy. This does, however, mean that gynecologists and oncologist do not have a lot of experience treating these patients, and the patients they do encounter present with a wide variety of tumor types, making each individual case even more unique. Physicians face a difficult decision: should treatment occur immediately – leaving the patient with a better prognosis - or postponing treatment for as long as possible to avoid harming the unborn child?
“We believe that every patient with cancer deserves the best care possible, even if her unique situation does not allow for the standard treatment,” Christianne explains.
Until ten years ago, most women diagnosed with cancer had to terminate their pregnancies, or give birth prematurely, in order to start treatment. Thanks to our very own Frédéric Amant as well as others, much research has been done on cancer treatment during pregnancy. These studies have shown us that it is possible to start treatment during the early stages of pregnancy. We have adopted this procedure in accordance with the guidelines outlined by the Advisory Board for Cancer in Pregnancy in the Netherlands and abroad. When treatment is not possible, the decision will be made after an in-depth multidisciplinary team meeting.
Doctors and patients alike can benefit from the Advisory Board’s guidelines in the process of shared decision making when facing difficult choices. All physicians involved can also acquire new knowledge through their work with the Advisory Board, which will further aid the treatment of cancer in pregnancy. These benefits will be further amplified once more countries join forces, Christianne Lok knows.
The Patient Impact Award
The Netherlands Cancer Institute Board of Directors founded the Patient Impact Award in 2018 to highlight all groundbreaking clinical innovations at the NKI. This involves clinical innovations that have made, or are expected to make, significant improvements in diagnostics, treatment, or quality of life for people with cancer. They are all based on a therapeutic concept or scientific discovery developed at the Netherlands Cancer Institute itself.