Developing Resource-Stratified Guidelines in Oncology to Improve Cancer Care Worldwide

Developing Resource-Stratified Guidelines in Oncology to Improve Cancer Care Worldwide


Gilberto Lopes, MD, MBA, FAMS
Twitter: @GlopesMd

Alexandru Eniu, MD, PhD

Nagi El Saghir, MD, FACP
Twitter: @NagiSaghir

Cancer incidence is increasing at a fast pace around the world. Nowadays, a disproportionate share of cancer cases and deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), which generally have limited resources available to treat the disease. According to the GLOBOCAN data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there were 14.1 million cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths globally in 2012. The number of cases is expected to reach 23.6 million in 2030, and most of this burden will fall on LMICs.1,2

Key Points
Resource-stratified guidelines are necessary to effectively fill health care needs and maximize outcomes in limited-resource regions. 
The Breast Health Global Initiative pioneered a four-tiered, resource-based approach and used it to create a fully comprehensive and flexible framework to permit incremental improvements in health care delivery, based on outcomes, cost, cost-effectiveness, and use of health care services.
The Asian Oncology Summit used this same four-tiered approach to lead the development of a series of consensuses that serve as an added model for resource-stratified guidelines around the world.

ASCO is currently working on resource-stratified recommendations for cervical cancer.

There are major disparities in cancer control across the world. The ratio between cancer deaths and the total number of cases is 47% in high-income countries and 66% in LMICs, which invest but a fraction of what high-income countries do in cancer prevention and management. For example, the economic burden from cancer in the United States, United Kingdom, and Japan is $183-$460 per patient, but in South America, India, and China the economic burden is $0.54-$7.92 per patient. Overall, high-income regions spend 5-10 times more per capita than LMICs.3 In addition to a lack of resources, these differences exist because cancer is not regarded as an important public health issue in LMICs.

LMICs must invest in cancer control in a cost-effective, stepwise fashion to achieve the best results in the shortest amount of time with the most rational allocation of resources. This means clinicians may be forced to provide less-than-ideal care to patients when diagnostic and/or treatment resources are lacking, despite knowing the optimal management strategy based on guidelines developed in wealthier countries. For this reason, it is important to prioritize treatment best practices that will most effectively fill the health care needs in limited-resource regions, where patients commonly present with more advanced disease at diagnosis, and to provide resource-allocation guidance in order to maximize outcomes in a systematic fashion.

Several groups, such as the Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI), the Asian Oncology Summit, and ASCO, have taken the initiative to develop resource-stratified guidelines in an attempt to help fill this gap. By collecting and interpreting evidence and categorizing them by resource availability, these guidelines provide recommendations for countries on how to improve their situation and advise physicians on how to provide the best care possible within limited resources. This editorial will describe the original experience from BHGI, the Asian Oncology Summit guidelines, and ASCO’s ongoing efforts in resource-stratified cervical cancer guidelines.

The Breast Health Global Initiative

Breast cancer is increasingly common in LMICs, and treatment can significantly improve survival. Established in 2002, BHGI created an international health alliance to develop evidence-based guidelines for countries with limited resources in order to improve outcomes. BHGI serves as a program for international guideline development and as a hub for linkage among clinicians, governmental health agencies, and advocacy groups to translate guidelines into policy and practice. BHGI collaborated with 12 national and international health organizations, cancer societies, and non-governmental organizations to host BHGI Global Summits. BHGI initially stratified resources in basic, limited, enhanced, and maximal levels, and then went on to develop and update resource-sensitive, culturally-appropriate, evidence-based guidelines where available, during the 2002, 2005, and 2007 Global Summits. Guidelines were published in 2003 as a theoretical treatise on international breast health care, and they were expanded into a fully comprehensive and flexible framework to permit incremental improvements in health care delivery, based on outcomes, cost, cost-effectiveness, and use of health care services in 2006.

From 2007 on, the initiative has focused on the implementation of the guidelines with pilot educational projects in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, known as learning laboratories. The 2010 Global Summit focused on optimizing the delivery of health care, and the 2012 Global Summit focused on palliative care and survivorship. As of 2014, authors associated with BHGI have published more than 200 related articles, and more than 500 papers from non-BHGI authors have cited the guidelines and the initiative.4

Table. Asian Oncology Summit and Lancet Oncology Resource-Stratified Guidelines and Consensuses11
1 Management of gastric cancer in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines
2 Management of hepatocellular carcinoma in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
3 Management of colon cancer: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2012
4 Management of HER2-positive breast cancer in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
5 Management of endometrial cancer in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
6 Management of kidney cancer in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2012
7 Management of prostate cancer in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2013
8 Management of the neck after chemoradiotherapy for head and neck cancers in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
9 First-line systemic treatment of advanced stage non-small-cell lung cancer in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
10 Management of sarcoma in the Asia-Pacific region: Resource-stratified guidelines
11 Management of B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines
12 Management of adult and pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2013
13 Management of multiple myeloma in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines
14 Management of T-cell and natural-killer-cell neoplasms in Asia: Consensus statement from the Asian Oncology Summit 2009
15 Cancer prevention in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2013
16 Supportive, palliative, and end-of-life care for patients with cancer in Asia: Resource-stratified guidelines from the Asian Oncology Summit 2012

BHGI presented recommendations based on a four-tiered, resource-stratified system: basic, limited, enhanced, and maximum levels. Basic level indicates fundamental or core services that are absolutely necessary for any cancer system to function (e.g., mastectomy). Limited level includes second-tier services that intend to produce major improvements in outcomes and are achievable with scant financial means and modest infrastructure (e.g., tamoxifen as adjuvant therapy). Enhanced level includes third-tier services that are optional in a resource-constrained setting but are important and should produce further improvements in outcome and increase the number and quality of therapeutic options and choices for patients (e.g., aromatase inhibitors). Maximum level represents services that might be used in settings with many resources or that might be recommended in cancer guidelines that do not account for resource constraints but that should be judged lower priority than resources or services listed in the basic, limited, or enhanced categories, on the basis of their great cost or impracticality for broad use in a resource-limited environment (e.g., colony-stimulating factors in adjuvant therapy). To be useful, resources at the maximum level always depend on the existence and functionality of all lower-level resources.5-10

Resource-Stratified Guidelines and Consensuses in Asia

Using the four-tiered, resource-based approach pioneered by BHGI, the Asian Oncology Summit, under the auspices of Lancet Oncology, lead the development of a series of consensuses that, although based in and created for Asia, serve as an added model for use in both LMICs and high-income countries around the world. These consensuses, which range from non–small cell lung cancer and breast cancer to nasopharyngeal and gastric carcinomas to screening and palliative care, were created with preparatory work before and meetings during the Asian Oncology Summit sessions between 2009 and 2013. Like the BHGI before them, these guidelines give individual clinicians a practical framework for treating patients and give policymakers insight into how to plan resource-appropriate cancer control. One of the innovative aspects—of the colon cancer guidelines, in particular—was the formal use, review, and development (when none were available) of health-economics evaluations and their incorporation into consensus development using World Health Organization cost-effectiveness criteria for the inclusion of diagnostic and treatment technologies at each resource level. A full list of the Asian Oncology Summit guidelines is included in the Table.

ASCO’s Resource-Stratified Guidelines: Cervical Cancer

Building on these experiences and on its own track record in guideline development, ASCO is currently working on resource-stratified recommendations for cervical cancer. This unified effort will cover the whole spectrum of the disease, divided in three areas: primary prevention, secondary prevention/screening, and work-up and treatment, which will also include survivorship, supportive care, and palliative care. Under the leadership of a Guidelines Advisory Committee, ASCO has already convened three expert panels and plans to have the work completed as soon as possible and to expand this experience into a planned series of resource-stratified guidelines. 

Resource-stratified guidelines are an important tool in our fight for global cancer control. We hope that this editorial will whet the readers’ appetite to learn more about the efforts of ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and the Society in general. Join the fight. Get involved as a volunteer.

About the Authors: Dr. Lopes is a medical oncologist at Centro Paulista de Oncologia and founder of the HCor Onco Cancer Center, institutions that are part of the Oncoclinicas do Brasil group. He has a concomitant appointment as a faculty member at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. An ASCO member since 2004, Dr. Lopes serves on the Society’s International Affairs and Cervical Cancer Primary Prevention (Resource-Stratified Guidelines) Committees and on the ASCO University® editorial board. Dr. Eniu is a medical oncologist with the Cancer Institute Ion Chiricuta in Romania. An ASCO member since 2001, Dr. Eniu is on the Society’s International Clinical Trials Workshop Working Group. Dr. El Saghir is a medical oncologist at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. An ASCO member since 1984, Dr. El Saghir is the immediate past chair of ASCO International Affairs Committee, a member of the Global Oncology Leadership Task Force, and the co-chair of the Resource-Stratified Guideline Advisory Group.